ALAN SHEARER knows when it will be time to hang up his boots, and time on an illustrious playing career is fast approaching. But after spending three games on the sidelines through injury he was relieved to return to Newcastle United's starting line-up on Saturday, and score.

No attempt to disguise a burning desire to step into management one day has been made, so when he took up coaching responsibilities in the dug-out recently there was more than one observer claiming he resembled a manager-in-waiting.

With Glenn Roeder performing a mini miracle in his caretaker capacity and Martin O'Neill's name sitting at the top of chairman Freddy Shepherd's wanted list, Shearer is unlikely to be given the chance to take his first step into management just yet.

And, after realising just what life is like on the sidelines rather than up front banging in the goals, Newcastle's all-time leading goalscorer is determined to make the most of the final weeks of his professional career, before taking a year out to evaluate his options.

Shearer, not about to rethink his retirement plans, started the only way he knows by heading in goal number 202 for Newcastle and would love nothing more than to add a few more to that total before the curtain comes down in May.

"It was alright in the dugout. It's great when you're winning, isn't it?" said Shearer, whose headed goal on the stroke of half-time put Newcastle two up and on course for victory against Bolton.

"We've been winning games so it was OK, but I much prefer playing. If you ask anyone the same, they'll tell you it's better than coaching or managing.

"I much prefer being out on the pitch than being in the dug-out, it's a lot better particularly when you're winning and scoring. That helps a lot.

"It's a big team effort. We've worked very hard to get where we are. We're on a decent run, full of confidence and belief, we'll enjoy the weekend and then we've got another big test coming next weekend."

Since Graeme Souness departed and Roeder was temporarily installed, ably assisted by Shearer, Newcastle have incredibly gone six matches without defeat and moved into the last eight of the FA Cup.

The team now resembles a cohesive unit challenging for a European place rather than one that spent much of the campaign fearing the drop.

"What has Glenn done for the team? It's belief, it's confidence and it's a little bit of organisation. Having players playing regularly and not getting injured, the likes of Scott Parker, Emre Charles (N'Zogbia) and other people and that helps," said captain Shearer.

"Glenn's approach has very much been about going back to basics. He's been putting people in the team and giving them belief and confidence. It helps that we're winning games.

"We're aware that most of them have been at home but, to be fair, the Aston Villa performance (2-1 win at Villa Park) was probably one of our better ones in that little group, so we've now got to carry that on. Glenn's done a fantastic job for us, he really has.

"We've carried it on now for six games and we're determined to carry it into seven, eight, nine and even ten games, then we might get somewhere."

With Michael Owen sidelined with a broken metatarsal, Shola Ameobi has enjoyed a run in the side that he would not normally have enjoyed.

Ameobi was one of the poorer performers on Saturday but still managed to get his name on the scoresheet when he was in the right place to put Newcastle three up with 21 minutes remaining.

And Shearer, looking forward to Sunday's trip to Manchester United with renewed confidence, explained: "I thought he worked very hard. He was struggling at half-time, but we had to ask him to go out and give us as much as he could for 20 minutes or whatever. He got his reward for doing that, for pushing himself that little bit extra.

"Everyone appreciated it and it certainly helped us get the three points and deservedly so. We all wanted to go back out after half-time and put in a robust performance like he did in the first half.

"We knew it would help us and he was prepared to do that. We thank him for that and he got the reward. That's the spirit we all need."

Young French winger N'Zogbia, who tormented full-back Joey O'Brien all afternoon, was another to be singled out for praise by the Newcastle skipper.

"There's more width in the team," said Shearer. "My goal was from a cross by Charles and I thought he was a threat all day, he's playing full of confidence. I don't know if it's his favourite position, but he ain't half doing a great job for us out there.

"Charles can be very, very good. He's got all the right attributes. He's young, he's strong and he wants to get better, which I think is important. He's done a great job for us. If he was English, people would be talking about him filling that problem position for us on the left. That's how well he's been doing.

"He's been doing it for a couple of months now. Now he's got to make that into three or four months and then into four, five or six years."