Wednesday 17 January 2018

Building on hat-trick heroics the aim for Best

BEFORE Wednesday night, many felt that Leon Best was history at Newcastle United. Instead, the Irish striker made history by joining an elite club.

His left-footed hat-trick to slay West Ham, in his first top-flight start for the Geordies, propelled the 24-year-old into the headlines for all the right reasons.

In doing so, he became only the second Irish player to score a treble in the 19 seasons of the Premier League. Robbie Keane stood alone in that category until Best's remarkable cameo, although the Irish skipper holds the edge because he has performed the feat on three separate occasions.

Best is the 117th player to come away with the match ball and his contribution was the 219th hat-trick in total. Alan Shearer, an interested spectator at St James' Park, recorded the feat 11 times.

There was no great surprise when the Toon great performed those heroics; after all, he marked his full senior debut at Southampton with a hat-trick.

Yet Newcastle fans were stunned by the clinical display from Best, a £1m capture from Coventry last January who, like Shearer, spent the early part of his career at Southampton.

The 24-year-old has always been considered something of a precocious talent. He did experience Premier League football as a teenager with the Saints, yet failed to build on that chance and spent periods on loan with QPR, Sheffield Wednesday, Bournemouth and Yeovil.

A switch to Coventry put the youngster on the right track, although it was never quite plain sailing. Best performed in snatches, with periods of goalscoring mixed with periods of famine, and a thinly veiled desire to leave the club and return to his native Nottingham.

He was a trainee at Notts County, and the chance to join Nottingham Forest appealed greatly. Handing in a transfer request to achieve that dirtied his bib with the Sky Blues faithful, despite a subsequent U-turn.

Chris Hughton took a punt, however, bringing Best to Newcastle 12 months ago. Until the front man's midweek exploits, it was one of the few decisions which Hughton's doubters could seize upon; the new recruit misfired in the latter half of the charge to the Championship and he was barely missed when injured for the early part of the Premier League adventure.


In tandem, he also slipped out of the Irish picture without much fanfare, a continuation of his slightly stop-start relationship with the green jersey.

Best's mother is Irish and he spent four years in Dublin in his pre-teen years, living in Bluebell and playing his schoolboy football for Lourdes Celtic. Some of his family still reside in Dublin, including his brother Stephen.

Nevertheless, in the early stages of his career, there were suggestions that he was considering declaring for England, an insinuation that Best strenuously denies. It didn't help that his relationship with Don Givens was complicated, a situation which puts him in a club that may have a bigger membership than the Premier League hat-trick heroes.

That didn't stop Giovanni Trapattoni having a look, though and, on the basis of friendly displays, he was happy to throw Best in as a substitute for the conclusion of the ill-fated World Cup campaign -- including the Croke Park encounters with Italy and France.

Alas, the loss of form at Newcastle affected his international standing and a disastrous contribution to last summer's training camp damaged his standing with Trapattoni. A spat with Paul McShane was his most notable contribution.

Ankle problems saw him miss the autumn qualifiers but it's possible that he wouldn't have figured anyway.

However, if Alan Pardew is happy to give him a prolonged run at Newcastle, he will be straight back into the frame.

Unsurprisingly, Best, who received a standing ovation from fans who largely have been on his back, was struggling to come to terms with his change of status yesterday.

"The feeling will never leave me until I die," he told the 'Newcastle Evening Chronicle'. "That's what it's about. It's what I needed. I'd love that feeling every week -- as everyone would. My head is all over the place after that, but it's a great feeling."

The challenge now is to prove more durable than your average one-hit wonder.

Irish Independent

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