Newcastle on fire as Boro slide further

Newcastle United 2 Middlesbrough 0: One North-east rival is a model of how to run a club... the other is not. Yet the Geordies are making a mockery of their laughing-stock status, writes Jason Mellor
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The Independent Football

Who would have thought it? Mike Ashley being able to offer Steve Gibson advice on the merits of managerial continuity. It's not just the moral high ground the Newcastle chairman enjoys over his Middlesbrough counterpart; a cursory glance at the Championship table reveals the clubs' contrasting fortunes, given the stunning role reversal in the owners' respective patience levels.

It will remain perhaps the season's most damning statistic, one which Gibson will need little reminding of. The Teesside club was fourth, a point off the summit, when he chose to dispense with Gareth Southgate following the victory over Derby County, in what remains their most recent home win at the end of October.

This morning, they languish in 14th, almost as close to the relegation zone as the automatic promotion places and a daunting 20 points behind Newcastle. The leaders have stretched their advantage to double figures thanks to an unbeaten run boasting eight victories in their last nine games under the guidance of Chris Hughton.

Given the previous track record of both owners – Gibson preaching and practising stability, Ashley's only consistency his inconsistency – the remarkable about-turn and its subsequent effect on these North-East rivals' attempts to secure an immediate return to the Premier League has been quite breathtaking.

Doubts remain regarding Hughton's suitability to manage in the Premier League when – not if – Newcastle return in May. That is a problem Gibson would love to have to deal with right now. One victory and five points in the eight games since Gordon Strachan took charge is the kind of form to get Boro out of the Championship, but in the opposite direction to Newcastle.

"As a manager you get some horrible periods in your life," he conceded. "This is one of them. I need to deal with it and I know what the problems are and I will address those."

In front of a record second-tier crowd of nearly 50,000, the result was never in doubt once referee Kevin Friend missed Shola Ameobi's push on Emanuel Pogatetz, as the forward outjumped hapless goalkeeper Brad Jones, to tee-up the fifth goal of Marlon Harewood's loan spell from Aston Villa from close range.

There was further misfortune for the visitors before the break when Steven Taylor's handball went un-noticed as the defender inadvertently pushed Isaiah Osbourne's follow-up on to a post after Steve Harper had beaten out Gary O'Neil's free-kick.

Ameobi sealed victory just before the hour, easily rising above a leaden-footed David Wheater to head the second from Danny Guthrie's inviting cross, allowing Hughton to take off both goalscorers.

"I can understand where Middlesbrough are coming from on the two major refereeing decisions," Hughton admitted. "But I thought Pogatetz was half-tumbling as the ball came over, and as for Steven, there was no intent to handle."

Victory was tinged with sadness following news of the death at 88 of Jack Hixon, the renowned North-East-based scout who unearthed Alan Shearer. "It's a very sad day," the former Newcastle captain said. "Jack was a lovely man. We were very close and he'll be sadly missed."

Newcastle (4-4-2): Harper; Simpson, S Taylor, Coloccini, Enrique; Guthrie, Nolan, Smith (Butt, 49), Gutierrez; Ameobi (Pancrate, 84), Harewood (Ranger, 66). Substitutes not used: Lovenkrands (gk), R Taylor, Krul, Kadar.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Jones; McMahon, Wheater, Pogatetz, Hoyte; O'Neil, R Williams, Osbourne, Arca (Yeates, 66); Kitson (Bent, h-t), Lita (Franks, 84). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Riggott, Coyne, L Williams.

Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).

Booked: Newcastle Simpson; Middlesborough R Williams, Pogatetz.

Man of the match: Guthrie.

Attendance: 49,644.