Friday 22 September 2017

Gutierrez toast of Toon after tense climax to their season to forget

Newcastle United 2 West Ham United 0

Jonas Gutierrez celebrates scoring Newcastle's second goal in their 2-0 victory over West Ham which secured their Premier League survival
Jonas Gutierrez celebrates scoring Newcastle's second goal in their 2-0 victory over West Ham which secured their Premier League survival
Moussa Sissoko celebrates after scoring Newcastle's first goal
Newcastle's Fabricoi Coloccini tackles Carton Cole of West Ham

Luke Edwards

It was left to the player who had provided the only feelgood story of the season at Newcastle United to give a miserable, soul-destroying campaign a happy ending.

Jonas Gutierrez, the player who survived a battle with cancer, a man who feared the end of his life, let alone his football career, scored one and created the other to make sure Newcastle survived as a Premier League club.

Hull City's failure to beat Manchester United meant Newcastle would have stayed up even if they had failed to beat West Ham, but they needed this.

Gutierrez needed this. His performance was typical of a player who has always done the Newcastle shirt proud, but his goal, a shot from the edge of the area that made sure of victory, was a moment to treasure.

Gutierrez was already popular on Tyneside, but as he waved to the crowd at the end of what is almost certainly his final game as a Newcastle player, he had become a legend.

Refused

A player assured of his place in history in a season everyone will want to forget as quickly as possible on Tyneside. He only returned to full training in January, but five months later, he is the match-winning hero in the club's most important game.

Gutierrez fought death, refused to give up, even after doctors told him he needed an intensive course of chemotherapy, after an operation to remove a testicle in 2013 had not prevented the cancerous cells from spreading to other parts of his body.

He has symbolised everything this Newcastle team have lacked.

Determination, guts and a refusal to be beaten. His body was strong enough to beat cancer, his mind was strong enough to resurrect his playing career, and when the tension threatened to suffocate his team-mates, it was the Argentinian who held his nerve; who stood defiant in the face of adversity and triumphed.

We have yet to see a riveting film made about football, despite numerous efforts to capture the magic of the global game for the big screen. Someone should speak to Gutierrez.

There have been better players than Gutierrez at St James' Park since he arrived from Real Mallorca seven years ago, but he instinctively understood what the club was all about.

Nobody has ever questioned his commitment - he even stayed after relegation in 2009 to help the club win promotion in the Championship - or desire. He has never not given 100pc and that is all Newcastle supporters really demand of their team.

If only the same could be said about the other goalscorer.

Moussa Sissoko, who headed in a brilliant cross from Gutierrez early in the second half, epitomises Newcastle's ills as a team, as well as the flaws of pitching yourself to foreign players and agents as a stepping-stone club.

He should be one of the most dominant attacking midfielders in English football but is rarely in the mood.

In January, after six weeks of eye-catching performances during Newcastle's best spell of the season under former manager Alan Pardew, Sissoko gave an interview in France in which he openly expressed a desire to leave for a Champions League club and flirted with Arsenal by describing them as his "dream" club.

When that move did not materialise, he went missing on the pitch, there in body, but not in mind or spirit. The sight of him kissing the badge in front of the television cameras after this game was stomach-churning. He has wanted to leave for months and shirked responsibility during the run of nine defeats in 10 games that put Newcastle's top-flight status at risk.

Newcastle, though, can at least say that they deserved to win yesterday.

West Ham gave them a couple of scares, Stewart Downing's scuffed shot saved by the legs of Tim Krul after he had sprung the offside trap in the first half and former Newcastle captain, Kevin Nolan, also missing a great chance in the second half when he dragged his shot wide from the edge of the area.

But the Hammers have been almost as bad as Newcastle in the second half of the season and, once Sissoko had eased home nerves, they were beaten mentally.

West Ham's form shows what can happen when a club is allowed to drift. Newcastle have been drifting without ambition or direction for years under Mike Ashley.

Ashley decided to give his first interview since 2008 just 10 minutes before kick-off, to take the blame for the mess his club are in, but to also stubbornly declare he will not be selling it "for any price until they win something" despite the widespread calls for him to leave all season.

It says everything about how much damage has been done by his callous decision-making over the past eight years, that few supporters believed him. He has not shown any desire to win a trophy since 2007, so why should they believe him now? (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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