As Newcastle fans left St James’ Park on Wednesday night they were left to consider if it was a point gained or two points dropped following their 1-1 draw with Queens Park Rangers. A draw was probably a fair result as Newcastle were severely tested, especially in the first half, against a QPR side full of pace and vigour going forward. The Londoners provided The Magpies with one of the biggest challenges they have faced so far this season. Newcastle was saved thanks to a 70th minute goal from substitute Marlon Harewood, although things could have been so much better if Danny Guthrie had converted a debatable penalty in the first half. The Championship is finally beginning to live up to its reputation as a league where anyone can beat anyone with a number of the top sides struggling of late. With early pace setters Middlesbrough and West Brom again going down to defeats Newcastle still remain in a relatively strong position. They sit first, three points ahead of West Brom and five points ahead of third place Preston North End. For the first time in a while they had quality options on the bench with Jonas Gutierrez, Peter Lovenkrands, Geremi and Harewood all waiting in the wings.
Newcastle was able to gain the upper-hand in the second half through the use of their substitutes. Their narrow midfield, with Nicky Butt operating from the left, may have pulled it off against a lack lustre Ipswich side but it was left exposed against QPR. It was remedied at half time with Gutierez coming on for Butt, giving both genuine width and some protection for left-back Jose Enrique. They also bolstered their striking options with the introduction of Harewood for youngster Nile Ranger on the hour mark. Harewood made a good first impression on the Newcastle fans with his goal and then geeing up of the home support to raise the volume even further. Steven Taylor and Zurab Khizanishvilli formed a new look partnership in central defence and after the disappointment of conceding an early goal they improved as the game went on. Alan Smith again bossed the midfield with an all action display, yet again completely overshadowing the out of form Butt.
The game showed Newcastle that they cannot afford to rest on their laurels in the Championship. Following an impressive start to the new season and on the back of a 4-0 victory there was perhaps some complacency among some of the players. Manager Chris Hughton was keen to remind his players not to get complacent against lesser opponents. Talking after the game he said: “It’s a big reminder for anybody of the quality in this league, the amount of games you need to play, and you are up against Championship-hardened teams who are used to playing the amount of games we are going to play. It’s a big reminder and it’s something we keep stressing to the players. If I look at the games we have played so far this season, we have had to fight hard for everything we have got.”
Hughton’s rallying cry after the game again underlined his determination to keep Newcastle’s promotion challenge on track. The players in the dressing room are also under no illusion who’s the boss, despite uncertainty still surrounding the managerial position. Midfielder Alan Smith revealed that all the players are right behind the current management team of Hughton and Colin Calderwood. He said: “Chris is the manager, he’s in charge and he gets on with it. Simple as that. What we’ve got at the club are players who, when we go over that white line on to a football pitch take responsibility. Chris is the boss, he makes all the decisions. We just get on with it and try to do the best we can, and we are completely clear on that. There seems to be momentum building behind us and that’s great. Chris and Colin have done well, all the staff have been great but we’ve got to keep it going.”
If a change in owner does occur then it will a hard decision to replace Hughton. He appears to have an excellent relationship with the players and must have a role to play if someone else was to take over as manager. Newcastle have another chance to extend their lead at the top of the table with another home fixture against Bristol City. The Robins have been inconsistent this season and currently lie ninth in the table. Gutierrez and Harewood may both have earned starts after coming off the bench in mid-week.
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
Early cup exit shows where priorities are this season – September 25
Emphatic win a fitting tribute to Sir Bobby – September 29
Harewood announces arrival – October 2