SIR BOBBY Robson has played down talk of a growing rift with Newcastle United skipper Alan Shearer.

The two appeared to exchange words when Robson withdrew his captain after an hour at Parkhead - replacing him with new signing Patrick Kluivert.

TV cameras appeared to pick up Newcastle's number one striker voicing his displeasure at the manager's decision, but Robson remained adamant last night there was no problem.

"Alan Shearer didn't say any choice words to me when he came off - none at all," said the 71-year-old, who has been told by chairman Freddy Shepherd that Shearer's final season as a player will coincide with his last as Newcastle boss.

"Of the four strikers at the club who's played the most football this pre-season? Alan Shearer.

"He's played more minutes than Craig Bellamy and Patrick Kluivert and Shola Ameobi and I'm sure people realise that.

"My objective is to get everyone fit not just one of two or whoever people choose to focus on.

"As a manager I am responsible for the whole squad. In order to get Patrick Kluivert to obtain match fitness he has to play games. He can't do that if he's sitting on the bench."

Shearer was in more pragmatic mood after the game insisting: "It is all about getting fit in pre-season and everyone has to do this, including myself.

"I have only had one 90 minutes in pre-season and we all have to get ready for Middlesbrough - that is the most important thing.

"I am feeling fine, but I am not there yet. I don't think anyone is.

"We have no more games and we have another nine days before we go to Middlesbrough and I do not know if we will have a practice match inside or not."

Robson, however, did hint that his ideal strikeforce would comprise a holding player in the Shearer or Kluivert mould with a quicker player like Bellamy who could get in behind the defence.

His decision to replace Shearer may be a taste of things to come for his skipper over the coming season.

Robson said: "I see Patrick Kluivert and Alan Shearer as very similar players. I'm not saying they can't play together but Craig Bellamy is a runner and the other two are good holding players.

"Bellamy needed another game anyway, Shearer played Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and no players can complain about a lack of opportunities this summer - they've all had a chance.

"In Nicky Butt and Patrick Kluivert I've got two incoming players who I need to get fit.

"They won't get fit as unused substitutes.

Newcastle, meanwhile, are bracing themselves for further casualties as they battle to beat the viral conjunctivitis eye infection that has swept the club.

The club have been forced to shut down their training base as a precautionary measure after four members of the squad - Shay Given, Andy O'Brien, Lee Bowyer and reserve goalkeeper Tony Caig - fell victim to the infection.

With the season just nine days away the players have been told to avoid contact with each other and not to return to training until Monday.

Goalkeeper Steve Harper, who is in line to start at Middlesbrough on August 14 if Given fails to recover, revealed that the players have been warned to stay vigilant until the problem has completely cleared up.

Harper said: "They are fumigating the training ground and we were told not to change shirts after the Celtic game.

"The reserve game at York on Friday has been called off and the doctor has said a couple of us might be carrying it now - the incubation period is five or six days and we might develop it over the next few days.

"While it's still around all precautions are being taken. We've got four days and the manager has given us the responsibility of keeping ourselves fit.

"We've all been given a list of the do's and don'ts - players have to train themselves on Friday and when we come in on Monday players are not allowed into the building together.

"It is a major thing. If people get it and take it home some of the players have got children.

"We've got four people out at the moment and who knows if another four people have got it.

"If they're in and around the buildings then it could quickly escalate."

Read more about Newcastle United FC here.