Newcastle United gave their hopes of an automatic return to the Premier League a major boost with a 2-0 win away to Coventry. The Wednesday night encounter may not have been the Magpies best performance of the season but it epitomised the battling qualities and organisation that have been key to their promotion push.
The Championship scores from the previous night could hardly have worked out better as West Brom suffered a rare defeat and Nottingham Forest were held to a draw. As a result Newcastle now have a seven point advantage over West Brom and crucially a 12 point gap from the play-off spots. It will take a dramatic drop in form if Newcastle are to relinquish a place in the automatic promotion positions. Goals from Shola Ameobi and Nile Ranger also ensured that their winning run was extended to a magnificent seven games.
Like many of Newcastle’s performances on the road this season it may not have been pretty to watch but ultimately it proved effective. The pairing in central midfield of Nicky Butt and Alan Smith, while lacking creativity, were able to strangle the hosts in the middle of the park. As ever the back four of Newcastle were solid as they were able to chalk up their 12th clean sheet of the season. Coventry may have created slightly more chances over the 90 minutes but the away side took their chances when they came along.
Shola Ameobi made his return to the first team following a long lay-off with a foot injury and continued from where he had left off. He produced a sublime turn and finish just before half time to put Newcastle in front. It was slightly surprising that manager Chris Hughton made three changes to the team after a good win over Watford at the weekend. Both Danny Guthrie and Marlon Harewood could feel aggrieved to be left out, although Hughton may have looked to freshen things up ahead of a busy period. Harewood and young striker Nile Ranger were both introduced midway through the second half in a bold change by Hughton. It worked effectively as Ranger scored his first senior goal for the club with a simple finish.
There was no place in the final 18 for Andy Carroll despite travelling with the squad down to Coventry. The bad boy striker was arrested on Monday following a nightclub altercation but is yet to be punished by the club. All Newcastle players must adhere to a strict code of conduct and the player will be questioned before any formal announcement is made. After the game, Hughton said: “It was my decision to leave him out. We have a good squad.”
Despite a number of club and divisional records in sight for now manager Chris Hughton is just focusing on promotion. He said: “It’s wonderful for the team to equal those records. To be where we are at this moment speaks volumes for this team and I think it gives us the confidence and strength to go on getting good results. There have been a few things mentioned to us about clean sheet records or winning runs but the most important thing for us is keeping it going.” Hughton was also pleased to see Nile Ranger open his account for the club. He said: “I was delighted for Nile. We’ve given him the introduction he needs and I am sure that there is more to come from him.”
Newcastle travel to Barnsley at the weekend as they look to break the record for most consecutive wins in the Championship. They will be backed in the stands by almost 7,000 away fans who have snapped up tickets for the game. Barnsley have improved under new manager Mark Robins and sit 15th in the table. So far this season Newcastle’s worst results have come against the Championship’s unfancied, unglamorous teams with defeats to Blackpool and Scunthorpe prime examples. So they will need to be on their guard against another of the division’s so-called lesser lights.