Shearer's appointment is latest attempt by desperate Ashley to halt the Newcastle freak show

Neil Trainis IF Mike Ashley fails to keep Newcastle United in the Premier League this season there will be trauma in that part of the north east but at least the rest of the country can claim to have been entertained. The billionaire sports entrepreneur and owner of t

Neil Trainis

IF Mike Ashley fails to keep Newcastle United in the Premier League this season there will be trauma in that part of the north east but at least the rest of the country can claim to have been entertained.

The billionaire sports entrepreneur and owner of the club has kept his supporters on the edge of their seats, frayed their nerves and stretched their patience throughout a season which has lurched from one disaster to the next, from the far-fetched to the downright ludicrous.

If awards were handed out for the ability to amuse Ashley might boast a cabinet full of trophies by now. Newcastle's continuously unravelling travails have given onlookers reason to chortle, though the region is unsurprisingly bereft of joy in light of the struggles of Middlesbrough and Sunderland.


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If there are any crumbs of comfort for Ashley and everyone connected with Newcastle they may lie with the notion that they are at least immune from the derision of their bitter rivals.

Given their predicament that is minute consolation but it is something to grasp on to in these times of hardship on the Tyne. The other thing those of a black and white persuasion can cling to is that, as each droll episode unfolds, attention around the country zooms in on a club in crisis, a club in freefall, a club sinking without a paddle.

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Not that Newcastle have ever had much trouble attracting support. Their fixtures at St James' Park have not regularly sold out this term but they are making notable progress in becoming the country's premier club for comic value and the subject of discussion for supporters of other sides.

Through their ungainly and persistent attempts to wriggle and squirm out of a hole that has threatened to consume a proud club with a great tradition, they may have become everyone else's second favourite team.

It would, though, be condescending in the extreme for people to start looking out for their results on a Saturday afternoon out of empathy for their plight and just as galling for them to jump on the Newcastle bandwagon as if it were some kind of travelling freak show.

Yet it is difficult to suggest Newcastle have become anything else this season under Ashley, whose exploits since assuming control of the club in May 2007 could prompt a chapter entitled 'how not to run a football club' in any ensuing autobiography.

From the continental-style management structure he put in place, consisting of a variety of characters nobody in Newcastle or anyone outside the area truly believed would generate long overdue success, to the glorious and dramatic homecoming of Kevin Keegan and his rapid and unkempt departure, Ashley has overseen his very tragicomedy.

Throw in the vitriol of the long-suffering supporters at the appointment of Dennis Wise, once much maligned as executive director (football), and what they perceived as the public scorning of Keegan, their champion and epitome of the Toon Army, and the ingredients are there for a Shakespearian play.

Remember too that Ashley himself stayed away from St James' Park for a while in fear of his safety and that of his family and having failed to sell the club, returned to his palace cutting a King Lear-like figure tortured by his anxieties.

The latest instalment of this epic has seen the return of another Toon legend, Alan Shearer, as temporary manager while Joe Kinnear, whom Ashley appointed to help stave off relegation, recovers from a triple bypass operation.

Shearer, overlooked twice by Ashley for the manager's position, finally has his chance but, having apparently not completed his Uefa Pro Licence and with as much managerial experience as the dinner lady at St James' Park, will seemingly be relying on his aura as Newcastle superstar to pull the team through.

"It's a club I love and I don't want them to go down. I'll do everything I can to stop that," Shearer said with typically unremitting passion after announcing that he would take charge for the remaining eight games which will decide whether the club remain in the elite or grace the Championship.

Love, however, may not be enough. After all, Chris Hughton, a fine player in his day but now not much more than a coach, was taken off managerial duties because the club's results had deteriorated under him.

He was considered out of his depth since he was not capable of making match-changing decisions, like arranging for cover in central defence for an injured Steven Taylor as he received treatment on the sidelines, before Abou Diaby surged through the gap to score during a game against Arsenal.

Hughton is not a manager but then neither is Shearer. Ashley may claim Shearer's sheer presence will galvanise players who have grossly underperformed but if he cannot squeeze more from them or concoct a more effective way of playing, tragedy beckons. The renowned centre forward turned television pundit turned novice tactician needs to deliver.

There appears little logic to Shearer's appointment aside from the possibility of him motivating the squad. Perhaps that is all they need. A little kick-start in belief.

Yet what is clear is that the road to redemption will not be smooth for Ashley. Then again, we expected nothing else from Newcastle's Mr Unpredictability.

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