Barton moustache fails to disguise Toon shortcomings
PERHAPS it is Joey Barton's mischievous idea of a disguise, re-entering the Premier League arena with a Midge Ure moustache, but it will take more than a hairy top lip for the Newcastle United midfielder to undergo a successful makeover.
After 12 months out of the spotlight in the relative backwaters of the Championship, little has really changed for Barton or his club.
The former Manchester City player remains a magnet for yellow cards and his side still appear as defenceless as a zebra in the headlights. New season, same old story.
Within just 20 minutes of Newcastle's Premier League return against Manchester United, Barton had been booked for a trademark late tackle on Nani and Fabricio Coloccini, the shaggy-permed centre-half, had blindly passed across the face of goal straight into the path of Dimitar Berbatov.
Relegation was supposed to be a cathartic experience for Newcastle, their opportunity to banish the circus from St James' Park and start all over again.
True, Chris Hughton's team proved the sceptics spectacularly wrong by bouncing back at the first attempt, racing to the Championship title and scoring 90 goals in the process as they secured promotion with a 23-point cushion between themselves and third place.
But a summer in which they have spent just £1m on reinforcements has done little to sustain the confidence and morale generated by their promotion campaign.
When Kevin Keegan's Premier League newcomers faced United at Old Trafford in their first top flight away game in the 1993-94 campaign, Andy Cole's goal earned Newcastle a 1-1 draw and propelled the club towards European qualification that season.
There are no Coles or Peter Beardsleys in Hughton's team, however.
It is all about the midfield axis of Barton and Alan Smith, so expect more bruises than brilliance from the Toon this time around. That's where Barton comes in.
Remarkable as it now seems, the midfielder won his one and only -- to date, anyway -- England cap in a friendly encounter against Spain at Old Trafford in February 2007.
Little has gone right for the Liverpudlian since then, on or off the pitch, but with such a chequered track record, Newcastle is where he will have to rehabilitate his career.
His last Premier League outing, for Newcastle at Anfield in May 2009, ended with a red card for hacking down Xabi Alonso, but he at least escaped a repeat of that ignominy against United.
Having been booked just 19 minutes into the game, however, for his lunge at Nani, Barton's continued participation in the fixture was in peril with every subsequent challenge.
Whenever he wound up for a challenge, the 3,500 Newcastle fans held their breath, but they have grown accustomed to that. The same thing happens when the ball is delivered into the Newcastle penalty area.
James Perch, the full-back on whom Hughton lavished his summer transfer budget, struggled to repel the dual threat of Nani and Patrice Evra down the left flank, while partnering Coloccini was akin to wearing lead boots for the unfortunate Mike Williamson.
The positives? This was Manchester United at Old Trafford, a ground where Newcastle have failed to win since the early 1970s, so it was undoubtedly a demanding first day back for Hughton's players.
Barton has insisted he will only shave off his facial decoration when Newcastle record their first victory back in the top flight, though, so he will be hoping that his team-mates acclimatise quickly to their new surroundings. (© Daily Telegraph, London)