What’s the best strike partnership you’ve seen at Newcastle United?
Let’s narrow it down somewhat. Football didn’t start with the Premier League, despite what Sky Sports might like you to believe, but let’s look at the last 25 years or so.
I’ll give you three for starters: Peter Beardsley and Andy Cole; Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand; and Shearer and Craig Bellamy.
I’d be surprised if there were any arguments over that particular trio, though there may be a few shouts for the Leon Best-Nile Ranger axis which terrorised Arsenal one particular afternoon at St James’s.
OK, maybe not.
Those partnerships were hugely successful for Newcastle for a number of reasons. Beardsley and Cole appeared almost telepathic at times but they were such a good fit in the style of play Kevin Keegan was establishing in the early 1990s.
Beardsley remains the best player I’ve ever seen in a black and white shirt. Even better than Kevin Dillon. His vision, touch and skill must have been a dream to play alongside and the chances he created for whoever was alongside him, whether it was Gary Lineker, John Aldridge or Cole, turned them into goalscoring legends.
The Shearer-Ferdinand partnership was based more on brute strength and power. Neither striker was above 6ft tall, but they caused defenders sleepless nights every time a cross went into the box. If one wouldn’t get on the end of it, the other was usually on hand to head it home.
Shearer loved playing alongside Sir Les because, for once, he wasn’t the focal point of the attack. Centre-halves had two beasts to cope with and Ferdinand’s physical presence allowed Shearer to almost become the second striker, picking up the bits and pieces from flick-ons.
It was a role reversal when Bellamy joined Newcastle. Eyebrows were certainly raised when Sir Bobby Robson brought the diminutive Welshman to St James’s after spells at Norwich and Coventry which had hardly set the world alight, but the veteran manager knew what he was doing.
Bellamy’s speed and mobility extended Shearer’s career. After years of injuries, he was no longer able to run the channels like he once had done, but with a young, fiery whippersnapper alongside him it allowed Shearer to focus on what he did best – getting in the penalty area to finish off chances.
So, three great partnerships,each different in style to the other, but all with one common factor.
Cole was razor-sharp, lightning over five yards to latch on to those slide-rule passes from Beardsley; Ferdinand combined strength with explosive power that could rival a 100m sprinter once he got out of the blocks; Bellamy’s speed over 20 yards was electric and undoubtedly his greatest strength, even more so than his golf swing.
Which brings me on to Newcastle’s ongoing pursuit of a new striker, and in particular Charlie Austin.
Now Austin has many facets at his disposal. When I spoke to the man who discovered him at Poole as a teenager, Ken Ryder, he enthused about the QPR forward’s ability to attack the near post and how he can sniff a goal out.
But what Austin lacks, admitted Ken, is pace.
If Newcastle hadn’t signed Aleksandar Mitrovic then I would understand better the interest in Austin. The Magpies need a physical presence up front, which Mitrovic certainly provided in his 25-minute cameo on Sunday. Just ask Matt Target.
But forgetting the rash challenges, the Serbian’s performance showed how he prefers to hold the ball up with his back to goal before spinning and trying to get on the end of crosses into the box, as befits someone who counts Shearer as his role model.
Factor in Papiss Demba Cisse and Emmanuel Riviere – both players who thrive on good delivery from out wide – and it makes me wonder exactly why Newcastle need another striker like Austin.
Instead, it’s surely pace they need to compliment their existing strikers.
Steve McClaren looks keen to play counter-attacking football at Newcastle, with Georginio Wijnaldum’s goal against Southampton a perfect example.
Newcastle aren’t a side blessed with blistering speed. Moussa Sissoko and Wijnaldum clearly have the ability to burst forward from midfield but elsewhere, it’s only Gabriel Obertan who is really fleet of foot. The forward line, with the possible exception of Ayoze Perez, is very one-paced.
Austin remains the club’s No 1 choice as they look to strengthen their attack before the transfer window closes but it may be that another English striker who they have an interest in – Saido Berahino – remains a better bet for McClaren as he looks to create an exciting new era on Tyneside.