Carroll on song as brave Argyle fail to go distance

Newcastle United 3 Plymouth Argyle 1
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Off the field at St James' Park, the takeover saga took another twist yesterday. Newcastle United issued a statement confirming they had received an offer matching the £100m asking price of the owner, Mike Ashley. "However, we are still in negotiations and all parties involved are at sale and purchase stage," the club missive added.

It remains to be seen, then, whether local businessman Barry Moat, who was not identified in the statement, can finally get his hands on the keys to a new Newcastle, and install Alan Shearer on the managerial throne.

In the meantime, Chris Hughton is continuing to manage very nicely, thank you, in his caretaking role. Following their midweek blip on the road at Blackpool, Newcastle managed to maintain their home patch as a Championship fortress yesterday. Not without a struggle, though.

Plymouth Argyle might be anchored to the foot of the table without a point from six matches now, their worst run since 1967, but Paul Sturrock's side made their presence felt on Tyneside.

Roared on by a hardy band of 2,200 followers, most of whom left Home Park at 4am for the long old poke of a 418-mile trip, Argyle drew level with a volley from the influential Karl Duguid five minutes into the second-half and looked set fair for a point or possibly three until a Kevin Nolan goal turned back the green tide and then a strike from Andy Carroll eased Newcastle to their fourth home win out of four in the second-tier. "It wasn't easy," Hughton conceded afterwards. "For periods of the game we made it hard work."

The contest was six minutes old when Geremi swung over a corner from the left and Steven Taylor stooped to head the opening goal at the far side of the six yard box. It signalled a sustained spell of home pressure as Newcastle found their rhythm.

Peter Lovenkrands ought to have made it 2-0 in the 13th minute but the Danish winger gave Plymouth's goalkeper Romain Larrieu a comfortable enough diving save with a low shot from six yards out.

At the other end, Argyle had their moments on the break in the first-half. Cillian Sheridan, a striker on loan from Celtic, skipped past Fabricio Coloccini, Newcastle's Harpo Marx look-alike centre-half, and unleashed a low angled drive that Steve Harper did well to save.

Still, Newcastle ought to have been two goals clear by half-time, Ryan Taylor steering a shot directly at Larrieu when put clean through just before the interval.

Then came the Plymouth fightback. Sturrock's men were bright and purposeful from the start of the second half and in the 50th minute Duguid launched the sweeping attack that yielded the equaliser, setting Sheridan away on the right and haring into the goalmouth to meet the striker's cross with a close range volley. It was a fine goal and it was followed by some rich, flowing play by the men in green.

They very nearly edged in front three minutes later but Harper managed to tip over a curling shot from Gary Sawyer. Newcastle needed some inspiration from somewhere and it came via the substitutes' bench.

Danny Guthrie had been on the field for a minute, having replaced the disgruntled Joey Barton on the hour mark, when he teed up a chip from the left side of the area and Nolan applied a scoring touch with his head.

The goal knocked some of the stuffing out of Sturrock's men but to their credit they kept plugging away. Indeed, all but the travelling 2,200 in the 42,898 crowd breathed a sigh of relief when Gray fed the ball in from the right and the unmarked Duguid swept his shot wide with the home goal at his mercy.

It proved to be a final fling for Plymouth. Carroll might have plundered a hat-trick in the last 10 minutes against a tiring Argyle rearguard. As it was, the big centre-forward got just the one goal, putting the issue beyond doubt with a low angled drive six minutes from time. All of which cranked up the pressure on Sturrock two years into his second spell in charge of Argyle.

"Well, I've had two draws and six defeats," the one-time Scotland World Cup striker said when asked if he felt under pressure. "There's only so far my board can wait for me to turn it around. But I thought the team showed signs of coming together today. I'm very, very confident that these players will turn it around."