Newcastle United ensured that there was no hangover from their first defeat of the season with a 3-1 victory over Plymouth. The struggling Pilgrims were ideal opponents to get the Magpies back on track and, despite at times making heavy weather of it, Newcastle were eventually comfortable winners. The game’s changing point came when caretaker manager Chris Hughton made a double substitution on the hour mark. Off went the underperforming pair of Joey Barton and Peter Lovenkrands and in their place came Danny Guthrie and young striker Nile Ranger. They both made an immediate impact with Guthrie’s cross finding Kevin Nolan to head home – Ranger having been involved in the build-up play.
The change from a 4-4-1-1 to a more conventional 4-4-2 gave striker Andy Carroll more support and he improved as the game went on, ending up with the Man of the Match accolade. Carroll, who became a father for the first time last week, has broken his duck for the season with two goals in a week. He was also unlucky with a fine acrobatic effort that brought an excellent save out of the Plymouth goalkeeper. Carroll may have to shoulder the burden of leading the attack in place of the injured Shola Ameobi, although Newcastle is still trying to bring in an experienced striker. Aston Villa’s Marlon Harewood is expected to join on loan at the end of this week to bolster their options. However, it would be tough on youngsters Carroll and Ranger if they are dropped in favour of Harewood.
Another local lad on target on Saturday was defender Steven Taylor. Speaking after the game he revealed his goal celebration was inspired by Simon Cowell. After opening the scoring Taylor crossed his arms to make an X shape in a tribute to the X-Factor. Taylor joked: “I’ve been getting a bit of stick about my white teeth from the lads. They’ve been calling me Simon Cowell, telling me I’ve had them chemically whitened so I gave it the X-Factor sign when I scored. I’ve taken loads of stick off the coaching staff, they’ve been getting at me all week calling me Simon Cowell this and Simon Cowell that.” A light-hearted moment such as this would have been unheard of last season but now there appears to be a much better spirit in the club’s camp. Taylor himself has emerged as a key figure in the dressing room, helping to foster team spirit with practical jokes. It is hard to imagine some of the big egos from last season joining in with the dressing room banter.
One name that continues to be linked with a return to St James’ Park is that of Alan Shearer. If a takeover does occur then Shearer would be one of the major favourites to return to the helm, but he has admitted he would be prepared to listen to other job offers. The club’s record goalscorer said: “Despite what happened in my short spell at Newcastle I would dearly love to get back into the game. If everything was right then, yeah. If the job came up or if a job was to come up, not necessarily Newcastle, then I would be interested.” It would be very unlikely for owner Mike Ashley to reappoint Shearer, so his only chance of an early return would be for a takeover to happen.
There has been some progress on the takeover front with Newcastle issuing a fresh statement at the weekend. It read: “The £100m asking price has been matched, however, we are still in negotiations and all parties involved are at sale and purchase stage.” Local businessman Barry Moat is believed to be the leading contender to buy the club at this crucial stage. However the issue holding up the process is the club’s overdraft facility. Mike Ashley is attempting to renegotiate the £39m overdraft to a more manageable level, but the one being offered to Moat is less than what has been offered to Ashley.
Monday saw the great and good from the game attend a service of remembrance for Sir Bobby Robson at Durham Cathedral. Among the Newcastle legends to attend the service were Alan Shearer, Gary Speed, Shay Given and Peter Beardsley. The service was also beamed back to St James’ Park to allow fans to watch a fitting remembrance of their local hero. On Tuesday night Newcastle faces Peterborough United in the League Cup. Hughton may use the game as an opportunity to give players on the fringe of the first team such as Tim Krul, Tamas Kadar and Ranger a chance to show their worth.
Newcastle United Club Focus
Pre-season woe – July 29
Fans say goodbye to a hero – August 5
Bridge over troubled water? – August 12
Local boy steps up – August 18
Home-grown strike partnership takes effect – August 21
Geordie resurgence gains momentum – August 25
Takeover still talk of the Toon – August 28
St James’ Park Ranger keeps Magpies firing – September 1
Ex-Magpie returns just as window shuts – September 4
Want-away striker leaves already thin squad – September 8
Former striker aims to shoot down Magpies – September 11
Newcastle return to Championship summit – September 15
Magpies upset on trip to the seaside – September 18
Magpies return to winning ways – September 22