Given that they owe their revival to his diligence and patience, it was only fitting that Newcastle should mark Chris Hughton's first match in proper charge by reclaiming top place in the Championship, even it was with an unimpressive performance.
Hughton's team, moulded into promotion contenders despite the club's perpetual state of uncertainty, looked laboured at times against out-of-form opponents and it took an own goal to give them an advantage. In a rough contest, however, a defence reinforced by the return of Fabricio Coloccini after injury had a certain steeliness that only enhances their prospects of returning to the Premier League.
They held on to their lead under fierce pressure from the home side in the closing minutes and it was no surprise that the Newcastle players rushed to embrace goalkeeper Steve Harper when referee Kevin Friend blew for time after five extra minutes.
Harper had made a point-blank block to keep out Kevin Treacy and a wonder save from Darius Henderson in stoppage time denied Kevin Blackwell's team an equaliser they probably deserved.
It left Blackwell trying to recall a black cat he may have run over but Hughton rejected the suggestion that his side had been lucky. "Harper made a couple of fantastic saves but I felt that over the 90 minutes we deserved what we got," he said. "Sheffield United are a very direct team that put you under a lot of pressure and ask a lot of questions of you but I felt we answered them."
The Sheffield side, last season's beaten play-off finalists, have picked up only two points from seven matches and lie 15th in the table. Injuries to key players have not helped Blackwell's cause and he has another one to factor in now after Kyle Walker was taken off with damaged ankle ligaments, the result of a contentious challenge in the build-up to Newcastle's goal.
The young full back was dispossessed by a side-on tackle from Kevin Nolan that left him on the floor, clutching his foot. No free-kick was given, however, allowing Ryan Taylor the opportunity for a shot, going wide, that hit Chris Morgan and hopelessly wrong-footed the Sheffield United goalkeeper Ian Bennett.
"It was clearly a foul and the referee has missed a crucial decision," Blackwell said. "But that sums up our luck at the moment and it has taken a world-class save from Harper to deny us in the end."
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Bennett; Walker (France, 60), Morgan, Davies, Kilgallon; Treacy, J Harper, Quinn, Stewart (Cotterill, 70); Henderson, Evans (Camara, 75). Substitutes not used: Reid, Williamson, Bunn (gk), Little.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): S Harper; Simpson (Ranger, 75), Coloccini, Kadar, Enrique; R Taylor, Smith, Butt, Gutierrez (Harewood, 83); Carroll, Nolan. Substitutes not used: Guthrie, Geremi, Krul (gk), Tozer, Donaldson.
Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).Reuse content