Crisis-hit Newcastle United routed Darlington of League Two yesterday as they put their off-the-field problems to one side. Goals from Damien Duff, Kevin Nolan, Jonas Gutierrez, Steven Taylor, Andy Carroll and two from Shola Ameobi eased the Magpies to victory, although Nicky Butt departed early with a partially dislocated thumb.
But just how many of the players on duty – Sébastien Bassong was conspicuous by his absence – are still at St James' Park when the new Championship season kicks off in three weeks remains to be seen. The 3,445 visiting supporters among a crowd of 6,698 made their sharply contrasting feelings about manager-in-waiting Alan Shearer and owner Mike Ashley, who is trying to sell the club, abundantly clear in front of the managing director Derek Llambias, who had a pair of underpants thrown at him by one disgruntled fan.
Newcastle, wearing their controversial new yellow and orange away kit for the first time, took the lead with three minutes gone when Duff latched on to an error by triallist and former Magpie Paul Arnison to score past goalkeeper Tom Woodhead. The League Two side were level within four minutes when their veteran striker Dean Windass, who had earlier forced a good save from Tim Krul, converted a penalty following Tamas Kadar's trip on Mark Convery.
Nolan restored the visitors' lead with 17 minutes gone when Joey Barton's excellent run into the box handed him the simplest of chances, and Ameobi's neat control allowed him to make it 3-1 from close range 10 minutes later.
Ameobi added a fourth from a tight angle nine minutes before the break and Gutierrez, one of seven half-time substitutes, made it five straight after the restart with his first goal for the club.
Nick Liversedge replaced Woodhead after 59 minutes, but his first touch of the ball came as he picked Taylor's header out of his net and, although Windass pulled one back with 25 minutes left, Carroll thumped home Jose Enrique's cross to make it 7-2.
Hull, meanwhile, dismissed reports linking them with Barton (left), who Newcastle are desperate to sell after a troubled two years on Tyneside following his £5.8m move from Manchester City.
"Joey Barton is a very good footballer," Hull's assistant manager Brian Horton said, "but I don't think it's an area that really needs to be looked at."