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Best hits mark as spirited Magpies spoil Hughes' start

HE lasted just three minutes before the confines of the dugout proved too constrictive. Just after half past one, Mark Hughes was back in football management and at 1.33pm, officially back in business.

At that point, it was with instructions to Luke Young about giving his new team more width. And the new headmaster had a classroom sitting to full attention, players who had listened to what had effectively been a week of cramming. He barely left his technical area all afternoon.

By the end, however, Hughes was back in more familiar territory, brushing his right hand over his left in anger at the lack of tempo from his new players.

A spark went around St James' Park whenever Hatem Ben Arfa, on for injured Yohan Cabaye, touched the ball as a consequence of the mesmeric strike that helped Newcastle into the fourth round of the FA Cup last week.

He was again inventive, dangerous and a spanner in the works of Hughes' hastily constructed machine.

In the 37th minute, Newcastle conjured up a winning goal that seemed to embody what Alan Pardew asks from his side -- spirit, endeavour and honesty. Jonas Gutierrez produced a stirring run on the right, his ball to Shola Ameobi was laid off to Ryan Taylor, whose momentum slightly fortuitously took the ball into the path of Leon Best, on the left-hand side of the visitors' penalty area. From there Best cleverly cut inside Young before subtly placing the ball beyond Paddy Kenny's reach.

There was justifiable delight shown by Best, whose work-rate is sometimes overlooked, the goal being his first in 10 starts. It also proved the one moment in which any player from either team produced the kind of devilment that Hughes wanted from his side.

"Maybe with more care and more devilment we could have converted some of the many chances we created," said Hughes. "But I was pleased with what we produced. The attitude and the application from the players was good.

Pardew, for whom the loss of Demba Ba and Cheick Tiote to the African Cup of Nations has yet to prove significant, was delighted with the result.

"We find ourselves sixth, above Liverpool, after 21 games, not because of what happened today -- we're there because we deserve to be there and it's about the next period of games," he said.

"There's money available and we'll take a player if we think one works for us, financially and for the team. We've got a really tight bunch here and we don't want to upset it." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent