ALAN SHEARER led Newcastle back to the top of the Premiership as Bobby Robson's men enjoyed a convincing Boxing Day victory over troubled Middlesbrough in the 100th League meeting between the sides.

Arsenal's 2-1 home win against Chelsea earlier in the day had temporarily knocked the Magpies off their proud perch.

But Shearer's tenth goal of the season in the 28th minute paved the way for a fifth consecutive League win, which restores United's three-point cushion in pole position.

Gary Speed struck his sixth this term in the 58th minute and substitute Olivier Bernard his second for the club in successive home games eight minutes from time as Newcastle - 4-1 winners at the Riverside in September - recorded a derby double over Steve McClaren's side.

On this occasion, the scoreline scarcely hinted at United's overwhelming superiority, which would have been better illustrated had Shearer's last-minute header not been disallowed for pushing.

While the Magpies are flying high, Boro find themselves just three points off a relegation place after a worrying run of three defeats and six games that have yielded only one goal.

Alen Boksic, the scorer of that goal in the 1-0 win at Blackburn at the start of the month, stormed straight down the tunnel yesterday when he was replaced nine minutes from the end of a game in which he was largely expected to plough a lone furrow.

Nolberto Solano, scorer of Newcastle's last-minute winner in Saturday's superb 4-3 victory against Leeds, threw off the effects of tonsillitis to keep his place.

But Nikos Dabizas succumbed to the leg injury he sustained at Elland Road, with Sylvain Distin taking over at the heart of defence.

Fit-again Noel Whelan was handed his first start this season as McClaren desperately sought a solution to Boro's goal drought.

Colombian Hamilton Ricard dropped to the bench, while there was again no place for Slovakian Szilard Nemeth, who wasn't even among the substitutes.

Boro's Argentinian starlet Carlos Marinelli passed a pre-match fitness test on his troublesome ankle injury and took up a position just behind Boksic.

But it was Newcastle who were quickly in forward motion, with Shearer inevitably leading the assault.

Only 42 seconds had elapsed when Craig Bellamy prompted a move with a ball out to Solano on the right.

The Peruvian then picked out Shearer with a cross to the far post, but the United skipper couldn't apply the desired power or direction to his header and the ball dropped into the grateful grasp of goalkeeper Mark Crossley.

Shearer nodded wide from another Solano delivery in the sixth minute, but Laurent Robert squandered a clearer opening two minutes later when he headed tamely at Crossley after Aaron Hughes had supplied the perfect right-wing centre.

Shearer's menace was ever-present and when a measured chip from Solano found Bellamy in the inside-right channel, Crossley just managed to touch the Welshman's cross-shot wide with the Magpies' leading scorer lurking once more at the back post.

Boro's first sniff of goal came as a result of Distin being deceived by the bounce and Boksic seized on the chance to force a desperate block from keeper Shay Given.

But it was all Boro could muster in the opening period as United remained firmly in the ascendancy.

Crossley had to save at the feet of the unmarked Kieron Dyer in the 17th minute after the United schemer had escaped on the right.

But the Boro keeper had no answer six minutes later when the quicksilver Dyer skipped round him on the left edge of the box, only to see his shot charged down by the chest of left-back Franck Queudrue.

On-loan Frenchman Queudrue, however, earned a black mark when he failed to deal with Speed's cross-field ball and thereby afforded Shearer the chance to make the breakthrough.

Crossley parried his initial shot, but Shearer shrugged off the close attention of former England teammate Gareth Southgate to scramble in the rebound.

It was no more than Newcastle deserved and they might have extended their lead before the break when Bellamy miskicked from 12 yards on the end of Shearer's ball over the top.

He then shot into the side-netting after another well-worked move on the right.

Whelan's game was over at half-time when McClaren introduced Andy Campbell for his first taste of senior action this season.

The idea was to offer much-needed support to the isolated Boksic and at the same time inject pace into a pedestrian-looking unit.

But remorseless Newcastle were in no mood to entertain any counter-offensive and Boro's hopes of a fightback were dead in the water when Speed added a second for the home side.

Shearer met Hughes' cross with a vicious volley which was deflected over by Ugo Ehiogu.

But there was no reprieve from the corner as Speed powered home a close-range header from Solano's right-wing flag-kick.

Ehiogu's frustration surfaced in the 70th minute when he bundled Bellamy over and collected the game's only yellow card.

Three minutes later, Given made his second save of the match when he pushed out Marinelli's curling free-kick.

Robert went close for Newcastle with a shot that was deflected wide and then released Bellamy, who was denied by Crossley in a one-on-one situation.

But it was Bellamy's right-wing cross which set up Bernard, who brought the ball under control to blast home left-footed into the far corner after only three minutes on the field.

Ehiogu then almost scored an own goal when he lifted Bellamy's cross inches over from inside the six-yard box.