Newcastle FC cruised to victory over Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Saint James' Park thanks to a first-half hat-trick from striker Alan Shearer - leaving Sir Bobby Robson's side with a great chance of reaching the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals and eliminating last season's finalists from the competition.
Robson welcomed back his inspirational captain after suspension and he took just five minutes to score his first of the night. Gary Speed curled in a weighted cross, and, with the Leverkusen defence nowhere, Shearer dived to head in at the far post.
On eleven minutes, the former England captain made it two. He began the move himself, seizing on a loose pass by Cris to send Shola Ameobi sprinting away. Ameobi muscled past two challenges before squaring the ball across goal. Hans-Jorg Butt got a palm to the ball, but it deflected off Cris and to Shearer, who nodded in.
Newcastle were rampant and Leverkusen looked on the brink of a humiliating defeat. However on 20 minutes they had a glorious chance to get back into the game when Oliver Neuville slid the ball through for França and the Brazilian scampered towards goal. Goalkeeper Shay Given pulled him down, and the referee gave a penalty. Neuville stepped up, but shot weakly and Given saved.
Leverkusen coach Thomas Hörster was rattled enough to make an early change, taking off the ineffective Cris for Croatian defender Boris Zivkovic. Despite the change, the game was effectively finished by Newcastle and Shearer’s third. On 36 minutes Ameobi sent a clever first time pass into the stride of Dyer. Thomas Kleine pulled Dyer back and the referee gave another penalty. Shearer made no mistake and completed his hat-trick.
The second half saw Leverkusen try and play their way back into the game, despite the odds being stacked against them. Even so, their defence looked vulnerable - with Kieron Dyer’s pace causing particular problems. Shearer should have scored his fourth on the hour mark. Ameobi jinked past his marker in the box, before squaring to the unmarked Shearer. The veteran striker unbelievably scuffed his shot wide from just eight metres out - a miss completely out of place with his performance.
Leverkusen refused to fold completely, however, and pulled a goal back on 73 minutes. Substitute Marko Babic burst forward at pace and picked out Yildiray Bastürk. The Turkish midfield player, who had an excellent second half, chipped the ball through and Babic applied a deft first-time finish. A Leverkusen corner almost produced a second five minutes later, as the ball came off Titus Bramble’s back but bounced off the crossbar.
Shearer was taken off to a standing ovation on 81 minutes after one of his best performances in a Newcastle shirt. His replacement, Lomana LuaLua, showed dangerous pace, but it was fellow substitute Hugo Viana who was most impressive. The Portuguese youngster retained possession with ease and set up LuaLua for a good late chance with a clever back-heel.