Newcastle’s impeccable home form shows little sign of easing up as they added another important three points to their Championship promotion push. Preston North End were the latest side to leave Tyneside pointless as they went down 3-0.
Despite never really hitting the heights of their previous two home games, Newcastle still had more than enough about them to win comfortably without ever hitting top gear. The Magpies’ recent slump in form appears to have been forgotten as in the space of a couple of games they have created a cushion between themselves and the other title challengers. They now hold a five and six point lead over Nottingham Forest and West Brom respectively. They also have the added bonus of having played nearly all of the top sides in the Championship away from home. It would appear that their destiny is in their own hands this season.
Although key wide man Wayne Routledge was missing through injury, the Magpies still had enough creativity to carve out good goalscoring chances. Only Peter Lovenkrands will know if his opening goal was a shot or a cross but his early strike set the ball rolling. Lovenkrands now has five goals in his last five games at St James’ Park despite not always being a regular starter. He should now have convinced Chris Hughton of his merits and what he brings to the side. He offers something a bit different to most of Newcastle’s other strikers who generally offer a more muscular approach. He has also become a big favourite among the fans who have helped him to overcome his recent personal grief so they’ll be hoping that the injury that forced his early withdrawal from the Preston game is not too serious.
Lovenkrands is currently embroiled in the race to become Newcastle’s leading scorer for the season. Twelve-goal Kevin Nolan currently leads the race after overcoming his two month scoring drought on Saturday, a fact that he has not kept quiet to the strikers on the club’s books. Nolan said: “I must be the only midfielder in football to go through a goal drought. I suppose it is meant as a compliment to me because of the goals I scored earlier this season. I am pleased to get back on the score sheet but more pleased with the win. It is a bit of a race to be top scorer but to be honest I don’t mind. Everyone is trying to make something of the fact that a midfielder is top scorer. The strikers are all biting at me. I think it is more important to them that they overtake me than it is for me to stay ahead of them.”
For the first time this season Hughton’s name rang out across the St James’ Park stands as the fans acclaimed their manager. The majority of the 45 000 supporters sang the name of the man who has guided Newcastle through what was always going to be a difficult season. It is a significant reaction as the Newcastle fans have often had an important say on the future of their managers. It seems Hughton has won over the majority of his doubters with his humility and most important of all results: “I didn’t recognise the chants at first, someone had to tell me that it was me they were shouting for,” said Hughton. “It was nice, but what was nicer was that we won the game. Occasionally I had my name sung during my playing days. What you have to remember is that I was in a Tottenham team with Glenn Hoddle, Steve Archibald, Garth Crooks, Ossie Ardiles, Steve Perryman, Ray Clemence, big names. All I know is that it was an awfully long time ago that I had my name sung. It never upset me that others got the praise. I knew where I was as a player, with big-name players in a team around me.”
One man who often hears his name chanted at St James’ Park is owner Mike Ashley, although since the start of last season it has not been in a positive light. Reports at the weekend claimed that Ashley had to make a £25m loan in December to keep the club running. The interest-free loan is believed to have been offset against Newcastle’s next set of Premier League parachute payments which is not paid until the end of the season. With a wage bill thought to be around the £40m mark it is imperative that Newcastle achieve promotion at their first attempt. Although Ashley’s intentions with the club are dubious, at least he has not let the club become another Portsmouth or Crystal Palace.
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