Thursday 22 June 2017

Hughton protests fading in Newcastle's new dawn

Newcastle 3 Liverpool 1

There have been almost as many fake messiahs as false dawns on Tyneside, but for a brief moment at least, Newcastle fans have reason to believe that Alan Pardew might prove an unexpected answer to their woes after all.

A gritty, gutsy win will not erase the mystification and misery induced by the club's bizarre decision to sack Chris Hughton last Monday but at least it buys the latest messiah time to implement his personal blueprint for Geordie salvation.

As Kevin Nolan celebrated giving Newcastle the lead with his now trademark "funky chicken" dance routine, Pardew, at a stroke, knew all of the pre-match talk of mutinous players had been rather over-egged. Granted, Newcastle's squad harbour affection for the deposed Chris Hughton but, as is the norm, in football they will surely view this latest upheaval on Tyneside as a case of the king is dead, long live the king.

The fans, though, are a very different matter and when, high up in the main stand, Mike Ashley, Newcastle United's owner, hugged Derek Llambias, his managing director, the relief was palpable. For a moment at least, the choruses of "There's only one Chris Hughton" faded and died inside a ground torn between serenading their fallen manager and backing the team.

Earlier, hundreds of locals had demonstrated peacefully outside the ground's main reception chanting "Cockney Mafia out" and, among other ruder things, "Get out of our club" and "Hughton's a Geordie".

Ashley's only solace was that the protesters looked young; so young indeed that it seemed eminently possible that many were teenagers enthused by the recent student protests and eager to seize their own piece of vaguely comparable action.

Their 30, 40 and 50-something seniors continued to turn a low rumble of discontent into the evening's soundtrack but when Joey Barton's 15th-minute free-kick was headed on by Andy Carroll and dropped kindly for Nolan to score, the fear of things turning really ugly abated.

It might have been different had Tim Krul not saved well from Sotirios Kyrgiakos at the outset or had Fernando Torres struck better a free-kick won fortunately when he fell over in the face of Sol Campbell so poorly, but Pardew's luck held.

The new man had swiftly banished Peter Beardsley -- the man Ashley had forlornly tried to make his assistant -- to the stands, and was accompanied in the dug-out by Steve Stone.

Stone generally stood back as Pardew issued a series of incomprehensible semaphore signals. Both men, though, quietly cursed as Jonas Gutierrez played a neat ball to Carroll but the left-footed England striker displayed a less than adhesive first touch with his right and the chance was gone.

Liverpool we're thrown a lifeline early in the second half when a long ball hit Sol Campbell on the hand, falling to Dirk Kuyt's right foot. Kuyt then switched it onto his left, took a swipe and the ball deflected off Steven Taylor into the back of the net. Sensing this game slipping away from his side, Pardew introduced Nile Ranger from the bench and the youngster shot wide after connecting with Enrique's intelligent ball.

No matter; Barton soon restored Newcastle's lead, courtesy of his second goal of the season. It could not have been more timely for Pardew. When Carroll provoked pandemonium by heading on a long ball, Ranger and a Liverpool defender tussled, allowing the ball to drop for Barton to poke home. Up in the stand, Ashley literally danced for joy.

Then, in stoppage time, Carroll made Pardew's day, courtesy of a fabulous long-range strike into the bottom corner, registered after Roy Hodgson's defence inexplicably backed off.

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