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Nic Ladds 8th May 2009 - 14:01

Back local Boro boys for Toon booty

Alan Shearer has billed Monday night's Newcastle v Middlesbrough match as the most important game of his and his players' lives.

The "Geordie Messiah" is probably correct when he speaks about himself, but as for the majority of his charges, hmmm, I'm not so sure.

For any true professional footballer, whose heart is truly in what he does, the next game should always be the most important one.

But how can we explain that a squad which possesses proven international acts like Michael Owen, Obafemi Martins, Mark Viduka and Damien Duff is odds-on for relegation?

The answer of course is simple. Shearer, cut him open, bleeds black and white blood, his players don't.

Therein lies the problem Newcastle have.

The manager wants it, the passionate Geordie fans want it, but massive question marks must be raised as to whether the players, expensively assembled from around the globe, really want it too.

Shearer is a "Messiah" to the Geordies, but to his dressing room he is simply a chap from Match of the Day with no previous managerial experience, who once enjoyed a sparkling playing career.

We punters need to remind ourselves, passionate managers and fanatical fans don't get results, it's the players on the pitch that take care of that.

So before weighing up any bets on this game, immediately discard any hype about the so called "Shearer Factor" because it is a total myth.

In the last four league fixtures between these two there has been nothing to separate them. But a point each is no good for either. Historically, seven of the last nine games between the two sides have finished all square, that includes the last four on Tyneside.

In Newcastle's last game against so-so Portsmouth, despite creating a few scoring chances, there was an air of inevitability that they wouldn't break the deadlock. The Magpies have only notched one goal in four matches since Shearer took charge.

Luckily for them their opponents have been similarly unproductive when it comes to bursting the onion bag in recent times, although in mitigation Boro's last two opponents were Manchester United and Arsenal.

Given the paucity of both sides in front of goal, bookmaker William Hill's match betting odds of 5/2 for this to end in a draw do look tempting.

With a lack of goals from either team many might argue it is worth going one step further and considering the generous odds of 9/1 about the game ending 0-0.

But before being lured in to that particular wager I feel it is important to get into the mindset of Boro manager Gareth Southgate for this match. With just three games left and an awful goal difference he knows that a point is probably of little use to the Teesiders.

With that in mind I expect to see a more adventurous approach from the former England man's side.

For me one of the most telling insights into how this game will pan out has been a revealing quote from North East native and Boro utility man Matthew Bates.

Bates has said in the lead up to this crucial clash: "We normally give a good account of ourselves up there (St James's) and the derbies mean a lot to the local lads.

"We have got a lot of them in the team and it can spur us on."

Local lads, whose hearts are in it? That's in stark contrast to the cosmopolitan Newcastle set up who can only list North-East-born Steve Harper as a regular starter in the past few weeks.

With those comments at the apex of my thoughts, and Newcastle's woeful scoring record under Shearer, Hills' match odds of 14/5 about the Boro win in this do-or-die clash make great appeal.

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