Kevin Nolan backs Alan Shearer to lift the gloom at Newcastle United
15 May 2009 06:44
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Moving away from his family, settling in a new town and getting to grips with a different way of playing - such were the main challenges facing Kevin Nolan on joining Newcastle back in January.
Then came the obstacles, one after another. Having laid out £4.5 million for the midfielder, Joe Kinnear soon succumbed to serious heart problems, leaving the club without a manager. Then, in only his third appearance, Nolan got himself sent off for an uncharacteristic but horrendous lunge at Everton's Victor Anichebe.
Newcastle, by this time, were heading only one way, prompting the dramatic arrival of Alan Shearer. Back from suspension, Nolan dug in, only to get dropped as Shearer searched for a way out of the unholy mess.
He's back now, though. In more ways than one. In fact, during Monday's barnstorming win against Middlesbrough, Nolan looked more like the player who had worked his way up to become captain at the Reebok whilst carving out a reputation as a dynamic driving force.
Late on Monday night, St James' Park acknowledged that same sort of contribution. Aggressive and influential, the 26 year-old Scouser had a hand in all three goals, including being responsible for the well-rehearsed block that allowed Steven Taylor to head home the vital equaliser.
"I just tried to get in the lad's way so that Stevie could make his run", Nolan innocently explained this week, trying to stifle a smile. "The trouble is, you'll have referees looking out for it now so I probably won't get away with that one for the rest of my career."
Maybe not. But such effective set-piece routines point to a team that knows what it's doing, to a team that, going into Saturday's humdinger with Fulham when another three points might virtually seal safety, is beginning to benefit from strong leadership. For someone who flourished under the commanding rule of Sam Allardyce, it was interesting to hear Nolan's views on Shearer. What did he think when the appointment was announced?
"I was very surprised, I must admit. But when he came in and spoke to us, explained the reasons he'd come, because he loves the club, it seemed like a very wise move."
Even wiser since, after the local hero set about changing the culture of the place, partly by setting down strict rules for timekeeping etc. Listening to Nolan, though, it seems that Shearer was furious that those rules made their way word for word into the papers.
"That shouldn't happen," Nolan says forcefully. "If you're a good club, nothing comes out of the dressing room. I think it's something the gaffer will sort out in time. It's something that needs to be addressed because more stuff comes out of this club than most others.
"It's one thing that lets us down more than anything. It's up to us as staff and players to get that right because if we want to be successful that's a major part of it - being close and together as a group.
"He (Shearer) doesn't want people laughing at this club. He doesn't want to switch on the telly and keep seeing 'Breaking News from St James' Park!' He wants to get Newcastle away from that and put them alongside the likes of Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool in the way we do things.
"I remember something came out at Liverpool not long ago about the American owners and no-one at the club could believe it had got out because that kind of thing is always kept in-house. I think Alan will strive to get that here."
Yes, but only if he stays. And Shearer has yet to contradict an initial statement promising he was there for eight games only, no ifs or buts.
"The more he's settled into the job, I think the more and more he wants to keep it now," Nolan says. "To be honest, I think he's the only one who will get the time and the money to get things right, the way he wants. If Alan does walk away, anyone who takes the job will probably be fighting a losing battle.
" It would be so hard for them. So it's a must now that he does carry on, for the sake of us players as much as anything so we don't have another seven managers in two years or something."
Nolan laughs, but he knows that, really, it's no laughing matter. Four months on Tyneside have quickly taught him that. The final two games, therefore, take on mammoth proportions.
"This club has had so much bad press and turmoil over the last few years that now's the time to get away from it by doing the right thing. With Alan coming in, you can see the direction they're trying to go. If we can get this season out of the way and secure Premier League status, then the only way is up."
And what about him?
"This is a new challenge and it's freshened me up. The next chapter in my life is to try and become a vital member of a successful Newcastle side the way I was a vital member at Bolton."
Newcastle successful? As ambitions go, you can't get many bigger.