Wednesday 26 July 2017

Toon Army show support for Hughton as hat-trick hero Nolan steals the show

Newcastle 5
Sunderland 1

Sam Wallace

CHRIS HUGHTON is not the kind of man who seeks to thrust himself into the spotlight, so it was no surprise that he did his best to deflect the significance for him of Newcastle's victory yesterday. But it is hard to argue with the voices of almost 50,000 Geordies when they sing again and again for their manager to take a bow.

The bookmakers stopped taking bets on Hughton being sacked by the Newcastle owner Mike Ashley last week, which would just seem to demonstrate that even after promotion back to the Premier League, this Newcastle regime have not lost their knack for atrocious judgment.

If they needed reminding of that then there was no better example than in the response of Hughton's players yesterday.

The future of the manager, whose contract talks are delayed until the new year, still hangs on a knife-edge and he could offer no more insight yesterday into why Ashley is making him wait.

Hughton has ostensibly boundless patience and good grace so it fell to his team to advance the most forceful argument yet for him being given the long-term deal he deserves.

This was one of those magical days for Newcastle, one that has been unmatched over the last few years of decline and internal strife and it was beyond the dreams of all but the most optimistic home fans. Against their bitter local rivals they saw a hat-trick from their captain Kevin Nolan, two more from their local lad Shola Ameobi and, to top it all, their former defender Titus Bramble was sent off.

For the fans who watched this club relegated from the Premier League 17 months ago, this was another milestone on the road to recovering their status.

They were once Champions League qualifiers and, before that, title contenders. The mess around Hughton is a reminder that the problems at this club cannot all be solved on the pitch.

This was an occasion when Newcastle could briefly forget all the suffering and live in the moment. It was like the old days of the mid-1990s at St James' Park: 51,988 in the ground, attacking and adventurous football from the home side and obese men with tattoos on their stomachs letting it all hang out in sheer joy at the occasion. Nolan stole the show with a hat-trick that showcased the best of his ability to pop up in the right place from midfield to score.

As a player who has never met with universal approval from the home crowd since his arrival in January last year, and whose place in the team has been debated even this season, it clearly meant a lot -- even if he chose to celebrate this momentous achievement by flapping his arms like a chicken in celebration.

But there were plenty more besides in black and white who stood out on an occasion that both managers admitted could have gone either way until Nolan scored the first on 26 minutes.

Andy Carroll proved that he is a player of serious if still unpolished talent. Joey Barton, on the right side of Newcastle's midfield, caught the eye and Ameobi played like the prodigy he once threatened to be.

As for Sunderland, their manager Steve Bruce summarised it best when saying that "everything that could go wrong, did go wrong".

From the goals they conceded, to Bramble's sending off, to the gradually more demented tackling of Lee Cattermole, this was a wretched afternoon. Sunderland needed Darren Bent but he disappeared until his 90th-minute consolation.

There were eight bookings in the match, five of them to Sunderland as well as Bramble's red card, but it was too one-sided to say it was a nasty game.

Bruce might have had a case for saying that Bramble's red card on 53 minutes was harsh: there was no doubt he fouled Carroll but it was debatable whether he was the last defender. But Bruce was not in the mood for quibbling over details -- this defeat was too emphatic for that.

As for Newcastle, they never stopped hunting down their opponents and, in doing so, inflicted upon them their heaviest derby defeat since the 1956-'57 season.

Nolan hooked the first goal in over his head from Carroll's knockdown and the second Nolan goal was a rebound from another shot from his house lodger on 34 minutes. The game was over in injury-time at the end of the first half when Ameobi scored from the penalty spot after Jonas Gutierrez was brought down by a clip round the ankle from Nedum Onuoha.

Once Bramble was sent off, Cattermole became increasingly erratic and was eventually substituted for his own good. His pledge last week to change his ways seems not to have lasted beyond the weekend.

On 70 minutes, Ameobi finished beautifully after Carroll's header rattled the bar. It was Ameobi who headed on Barton's corner for Nolan to nod in the fifth for his hat-trick. (© Independent News Service)

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