AS Fabian Schar prepared to receive his Player of the Year award at Sunday’s North-East Football Writers’ Association Awards dinner, he glanced over his shoulder to see former winner, Alan Shearer, conducting a television interview. “Maybe we need him,” joked Schar. If only.

His knees might be shot and he has piled on more than the odd pound since retiring in 2006, but it is hard not wonder if a 49-year-old Shearer might still be more effective than Newcastle United’s current frontline. Unlike Joelinton, at least he might threaten to get inside the six-yard box.

In becoming the fourth member of the Newcastle defence to pick up the North-East Player of the Year award in the last four years – Martin Dubravka claimed the crown in 2019 while Jamaal Lascelles and Matt Ritchie were joint-winners in 2017 – Schar’s triumph underlines the fact that the Magpies defence has long been their trump card.

Newcastle were rarely free-scoring under Rafael Benitez, but at least they carried a semblance of a counter-attacking threat in the majority of their matches and were comfortable when in possession. That is not the case at the moment, and whereas the defence was watertight as Steve Bruce’s side embarked on a winning run in the autumn, that sense of security has also disappeared. As a result, the Magpies head into Saturday’s crucial home game with Burnley with Schar conceding that things cannot be allowed to continue as they are.

“We all know we have to do better,” said the Swiss centre-half. “We have to improve because we cannot continue like we have in the last two games.

“We now have a week to prepare for an important home game against Burnley. We will train hard to prepare ourselves. I think we have enough quality in there, we just have to go back to basics, what we are good at, and be positive for the next games. In the last two games, we cannot be happy with our performances or our results.”

The ongoing debate at the moment revolves around whether Bruce should rip up his current tactical template and go with something completely different when Burnley line up at Gallowgate at the weekend.

The early indications are that the Newcastle boss will revert to a flat back four, with Dwight Gayle expected to replace Joelinton at the other end of the field, but like his team-mate, Matt Ritchie, Schar claims it would be wrong to stray too far from the model that was moulded by Benitez and co-opted by Bruce.

Trying to create an increased threat in the final third is one thing, but Schar does not envisage a radical reinvention being accomplished overnight.

“We are not like Man City with 70 or 80 per cent possession, and we know this,” he said. “We know our strengths. We are well organised and normally do well at the defensive side because we have 11 players defending our ball.

“Then, we have to get chances, and we know we can improve. We can be better with the ball, creating more chances that will enable us to score more goals. But we have to play to our strengths. If we do that, I am confident we will get points and finish strongly.”

Schar’s strong finish to last season was one of the key factors in him being crowned North-East Player of the Year.

Having joined Newcastle in a cut-price £3m move from Deportivo La Coruna, he started just one of the opening 11 games last term. However, he scored his first two Magpies goals in a 3-0 win over Cardiff City in January and did not look back as he started all bar two of the final 16 games of the campaign, bagging further goals against Burnley and Fulham.

“The first two to three months were not easy, but I knew what was waiting for me,” said Schar. “Rafa told me to be patient, and when I got my chance, I took it. I was full of confidence and it was a joy to play for Newcastle and the fans in St James’ Park. I had some great games and the second part of the season was incredible.

“It is a big honour to win this award, especially as a defender. I feel as though I had a great first year with the club, and I am thankful to play for Newcastle and with my team-mates.”