Newcastle give Shearer tough act to follow

Cardiff City 0 Newcastle United 1: Championship leaders' start has strengthened Chris Hughton's hand
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The Independent Online

As a new owner you would have to be daft to replace a manager who has enjoyed the club's best League start in more than a decade and whose side have not conceded a goal in almost eight hours. And as an incoming manager you would have to be even dafter to accept the role. Even if your name is Alan Shearer.

That scenario remains a possibility – and, perhaps, even a probability – in the ever-more bizarre tale that is Newcastle United FC. All Chris Hughton can do is sit back, savour the black and white-knuckled ride and realise that Barry Moat and any other prospective buyers just have to be taking notice. His CV is taking on an almost irresistible feel.

He has just been named manager of the month and yesterday's victory returned the Geordies to the top of the Championship, making it five wins in a row and a draw in a famous opening half-dozen. Little wonder he resembled the Magpie who stole the cream. "I am very proud of us today," he said. "We came to a Championship-hardened team like Cardiff and limited them to minimal chances. We didn't play as well on the ball as we have done, but the rest of it was first rate."

As Hughton alluded, it was not all pretty. In fact much of it was downright ugly. Alan Smith was sent off, just as he had been in the Welsh capital seven years ago in an infamous FA Cup tie while with Leeds United. This time, however, the older, wiser Smith knew exactly what he was doing. It was added time, Jay Bothroyd was inches outside the area and about to take a shot. Already on a yellow – somewhat harshly it must be said, as he barely touched Joe Ledley – Smith took one for the team. That sums up this incarnation of Newcastle.

Certainly they are unrecognisable from the rabble who were relegated in May. They are a tight unit – well, they have to be with only 18 senior players – and a team that know how to scrap and adapt. Newcastle are painfully lacking in attacking players, so their tactics inevitably lurched towards the negative.

They grabbed their goal early – the Argentine defender Fabricio Coloccini scoring his first for the club when rising to head home Ryan Taylor's cross – and made no secret of their intention to keep grim hold of the advantage thereafter. Smith barely moved from his position in front of the back four, while others such as Joey Barton were just as disciplined. And as much possession as Cardiff commanded, the opportunities were scant. When Smith did present them their last-gasp chance, Michael Chopra could only find the wall.

Of course it was frustrating for Cardiff, suffering their first defeat at their new stadium. Yet Dave Jones, their manager, had no problem with the cynical challenge or attitude of Smith. "Alan lives on the edge – that's what he does," he said. However, he was not nearly so forgiving when it came to the referee, Andy Hall. In the 82nd minute, Chopra was given a rare passage through and his shot was blocked by Steven Taylor. The appeals were vociferous and the replays showed they were justified. Taylor used a hand. "The referee and linesmen have missed a stonewall penalty," said Jones. "Seeing it on telly has made it even harder to swallow. They can't miss that. They're professionals as well and in a high-profile game they had to rise a level. I don't think they were up to that." For his part, Hughton shrugged his shoulders and said: "Honestly, I didn't see it. Crikey, he is even sounding like a proper manager now.

Goal: Coloccini (18) 0-1

Cardiff City (4-4-2): Marshall; Capaldi, Hudson, Gerrard, Quinn; Burke, Rae, Ledley, Whittingham (Etuhu, 68), Chopra, Bothroyd. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Kennedy, Gyepes, McPhail, Etuhu, Taiwo, Matthews.

Newcastle United (4-1-4-1): Harper; Simpson, Coloccini, S Taylor, Enrique; Smith; R Taylor (Butt, 76), Nolan, Guthrie (Lovenkrands, 61), Barton (Geremi, 86); Ranger. Substitutes not used: Krul (gk), LuaLua, Kadar, Donaldson.

Referee: A Hall (W Midlands)

Booked: Newcastle United Enrique, Guthrie, Smith.

Sent off: Newcastle Smith (90)

Man of the match: Coloccini

Attendance: 25,360.

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