Club Focus – Newcastle – The joy of six for Newcastle

Newcastle United made it six victories on the bounce, as they overcame Watford 2-0 at St James’ Park. The last time Newcastle reached that landmark was with Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers back in 1996. This current Newcastle team are not so much the Entertainers with a name such as the Grafters perhaps a more fitting title. However, both styles of play have proved successful as the Magpies grinded out another important victory despite being reduced to 10 men early in the second half. To make the win even sweeter, fellow challengers West Brom were denied three points by a late leveller by Derby. That means Newcastle now lead the Baggies by four points and have a 10 point lead over an ever-improving Nottingham Forest in third place.

Newcastle at times rode their luck against a youthful Watford side, who dominated for long spells in the second half. The Magpies had the better of the first half and led through a simple tap in by Peter Lovenkrands. When Kevin Nolan had a moment of madness on 48 minutes victory was far from assured. It was a rare blot in Nolan’s copybook as up to now he has had an excellent season. Fortunately he will only miss one game through suspension and he can have few complaints after he made a poor challenge despite already being on a booking. It was left to Newcastle’s defence and the excellent Steve Harper to repel Watford’s attacks for most of the second half.

Newcastle’s number one Harper kept up his fine form of late, as he made a number of reflex saves to ensure another clean sheet. Although Newcastle’s back four have generally been very good this season, Harper has provided another line of resistance whenever a forward has managed to break through the shackles. After being a perennial number two to Shay Given for over 10 years, Harper is now enjoying his time in the limelight. Irishman Given is now showing with Manchester City why he is one of the top goalkeepers in the world. It would have taken a truly exceptional ‘keeper to displace him. Despite being at Newcastle since 1993 the Easington born player has made just over 100 appearances in the league. There was always a very fine margin between Given and Harper, with Given just edging it under most managers. As there is currently a dearth of good English goalkeepers in the Premier League, some Newcastle followers believe that Harper might have an outside chance of going to the World Cup. But playing in the Championship would probably scupper that dream.

Up at the opposite end of the pitch, new-boy Fabrice Pancrate made an instant impression in only his second appearance for the club. His skilfully taken goal made Newcastle’s victory safe, just as Watford were preparing for a final assault. It was a gamble for Hughton to put on attack minded player as his side were holding onto a 1-0 lead. Captain Alan Smith was pleased for the former PSG star to open his account. He said: “It is nice for him to get on the scoresheet, but his all round play was just as impressive as his goal. In training Chris does well putting him up against Jose (Enrique) and they have a right battle. You don’t get many left backs as good as Jose in this league so it is always a good test for him. It is great that they compete against each other day in day out in training. That fills you with confidence because you know that training is sometimes more difficult than the opposition you are playing against. We have got to keep the intensity as it is which every team Chris plays will go out and express itself and show a good spirit.”

Striker Andy Carroll made a return from illness as a second half substitute and did well when he came on. But he could now find himself in hot water after being arrested on Monday morning following an apparent nightclub brawl. He was arrested by police on suspicion of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. After being questioned he was released on bail, pending further enquiries. It is not the first time Carroll has been on the wrong side of the law, as he was cautioned last September for an assault on a woman in Newcastle city centre.

Newcastle are back in action on Wednesday night with a trip to Coventry at the Ricoh Arena. Coventry have plummeted down the table after a good start to the new season and sit just two places above the relegation zone.

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