ON FRIDAY the country listened to what the whole of Tyneside had been waiting to hear: Alan Shearer had abandoned plans to retire on what became one of the most momentous days in Newcastle United's history.

But a little over 24 hours later, the world began to learn of one of the darkest occasions in the club's 124 years as Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer combined to make Newcastle a laughing stock.

Pictures of Bowyer marching ten yards to brawl with his own team-mate, in front of over 52,000 fans, have been beamed around the globe in what surely must be the last time the former Leeds man kicks a ball for the Magpies.

The celebrations after Shearer, the club talisman and gentle giant, postponed retirement for another year became irrelevant as they were overshadowed by two talented young men - who have never been strangers to controversy - dragging the club into the gutter.

Also lost in translation was a dreadful Newcastle performance and a deservedg Aston Villa victory, the first time they have done the double over the Magpies since 1989.

But, just as during the pre-match euphoria over Shearer's announcement, there was hardly any room for analysis after Bowyer and Dyer threw their arms at one another for the whole world to see.

Stunned into submission eight minutes from time, after the disgraced pair had been red carded, both sets of players left on the pitch could not believe what they had witnessed and wanted to head for the dressing rooms.

The handbags raised by Liverpool's Steve McManaman and Bruce Grobelaar during a 1993 Merseyside derby had nothing compared with this bout, which bore more of a resemblance to the 1979 fracas between Charlton Athletic pair Mike Flanagan and Derek Hales.

Blackburn's Graeme Le Saux and David Batty were fined and suspended after exchanging blows in a 1995 Champions League tie, but even that paled alongside Bowyer and Dyer's shenanigans.

Unfortunately the biggest loser is the club - with both Stephen Carr and Shearer well aware of it when they played their part in putting a stop to the humiliation, along with Villa's Gareth Barry.

With a UEFA Cup quarter-final tie against Sporting Lisbon on the horizon this Thursday, it is hard to imagine how either player can focus on performing in front of their own supporters after embarrassing themselves in such a manner.

Manager Graeme Souness is standing by Dyer, who he believes was on the wrong end of Bowyer's uncontrollable temper. That seems to suggest that the former could find himself thrust into action against Sporting.

After that, providing the appeal over Dyer's red card is unsuccessful, both will miss the next three domestic games at least, including the FA Cup semi-final with Manchester United on April 24.

It had all looked rosy prior to Saturday.

Shearer's decision to play on, a 12-match unbeaten run and hopes for success in two competitions had given renewed hope.

However, despite many calling for both players to be given the boot, Souness insists there will be a determination from the coaching staff to make sure that Newcastle emerge from this latest crisis.

"We won't take our eye off the ball. We have a very hard few weeks ahead," said the stunned Scot.

Ironically the pair in question were two of Newcastle's best performers up to that point.

But their scrap eight minutes from time reflected the frustration of a disappointing showing from the rest of the Newcastle team and a well-organised and more disciplined display from Villa.

Defensively the home side were shocking from start to finish.

That was highlighted by Andy O'Brien's withdrawal just after half-time for a confidence-lacking display that was compounded when Juan Pablo Angel should have capitalised on the defender's mistake.

But O'Brien was not the only nervy man wearing black and white.

The usually composed Nicky Butt struggled to contribute a decent pass all afternoon, while he had dallied in possession on numerous occasions before being caught out during the build-up to the second goal.

But the writing was on the wall well before that.

Just four minutes in, with the fans still celebrating Shearer's U-turn, Angel struck a clinical right foot shot on the bounce past Shay Given after Jermaine Jenas had failed to deal with a routine Steve Davis cross.

Jenas' day got worse when he missed two great chances to equalise before half-time, twice failing to hit the target from close range.

Barry, lively throughout, saw a shot rebound off the post before the break but he was to enjoy a little more luck in front of goal after the restart when he converted two penalties.

The first came on 72 minutes after a hesitant Butt had been robbed by Darius Vassell.

Vassell rounded Given and had a shot saved by the left arm of defender Steven Taylor on the line. Taylor was instantly red-carded just 20 minutes after his introduction and Barry picked his spot to Given's left.

Seven minutes later he repeated his precision when he stepped up and converted a second penalty, although this time it was a little harsh on Newcastle.

Vassell was barged over just outside the penalty area but referee Barry Knight adjudged the incident took place inside the box.

That was much to the annoyance of Newcastle, who felt they should have had at least two spot-kicks themselves before those took place.

Instead, Mr Knight waved play on when it looked as if Shearer's header at goal was stopped by the hand of Jlloyd Samuel, and then Butt appeared to have been bundled over in the box by Samuel again.

The frustration, compounded by Barry's accuracy from the spot, reached boiling point immediately after the Villa man had put his side three goals to the good.

Dyer and Bowyer rowed before the latter charged up to his team-mate leading with the head before lashing out.

Souness, whose side lost for only the second time this year, said: "What I will say, and this in no, no way condones their actions, I think the referee had a very disappointing game.

"Shearer should have had a penalty for handball. That would have taken it to 1-1. Their second penalty was outside the box if the challenge was strong enough anyway.

"After that the frustrations our players must have felt has obviously resulted in a lot of frustration showing itself in someone wanting to go boxing. It has come from nothing. I have spoken to the ref and told him that."

Souness, in summing up, chose to declare what a "traumatic day it had been for everyone".

That includes the honourable captain Shearer, who must have questioned his decision to play on after witnessing a couple of others wearing the black and white disgrace their colours.

Quite what he thinks of the whole scenario only he knows.

Yet he still had the decency to perform his ambassadorial role and greet the club's sponsors after the game.

It was an act those awarded man of the match are asked to do on a regular basis.

The truth is there wasn't a star man on show in front of the Gallowgate, just two childish schoolboys arguing over a ball.