Chris McGrath: Shame on Ashley for failing to recognise Hughton's remarkable Newcastle rescue job

The Last Word

Say what you like about the Carling Cup, it's not often you see a goalkeeper with no arms matched against one who can score the kind of goal few people had ever seen a week ago.

Admittedly Tim Krul knew rather less about his own goal on Wednesday, ricocheting off the back of his cranium, than had that performing seal, Javier Hernandez, when scoring for Manchester United against Stoke three days previously. At the other end, equally, Wojciech Szczesny demonstrated not only that he has retrieved full use of his arms, after contriving to break both in a gym accident last year, but also that Arsène Wenger may have had sound reasons for refusing to buy a top-class goalkeeper – apart, that is, from an inveterate belief that whatever is obvious to everyone else cannot possibly be right.

He's the benign dictator, the Arsenal manager, predicating his every move on the suspicion that the majority will dependably get things wrong. Sure enough, now that his previous wariness of the Carling Cup has been embraced by managers and fans almost everywhere, he has suddenly decided to take the thing seriously. Maybe it was all a cunning double bluff.

If so, the latest sucker was Chris Hughton, the Newcastle manager, who might as well have sent a white flag to the visitor's dressing room as a team-sheet. He had decided to hold back his big guns for the attritional business of surviving in the Premier League – a pity, because Newcastle are one of many clubs for whom the Carling Cup nowadays represents just about their only chance of winning a trophy.

Now, sadly, they have fallen for the corrosive lie that 17th place in the Premier League is all the fulfilment most clubs and fans can reasonably seek. Let's hope Hughton's ambition had not been contaminated by the bewildering "rumours" supposedly surrounding his future. For the most part, it must be said, Hughton has maintained a heroic dignity – which is more than might be said for those who keep asking him on television whether he is at all unsettled by all these unsettling questions.

Even by the egregious standards of football, to discard Hughton now would be an affront to decency and sanity. True, given who pays his salary, that offers him precious little comfort. But you would like to think that even Mike Ashley can recognise that he has somehow ended up with one of the ablest managers in the land – despite reportedly paying him about ten bob a week.

Anyone could see that the rabble relegated two seasons ago were more likely to plummet straight into the next division than bounce straight back, as they did, with 102 points. And here they are, ninth in the table. Hughton, in his understated way, has brought authority and unity to a dressing room that might otherwise serve as the china shop to Andy Carroll's bull. He has also coaxed a striking renewal from Joey Barton and, but for wretched luck, hinted that he might be able to do something similar with Hatem Ben Arfa.

And what of the fans, so often patronised for delusions about their club's rightful standing? Well, they seem heartily relieved to see Hughton bring a stable end to the messianic derangement that brought back Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer.

In fact, the only discernible source of discontent on the terraces – apart from Ashley himself, of course – is the fact that they must share them tomorrow with the good folk of Sunderland.

If this nonsense has only obtained a life of its own through the amplification of unattributed whispers by press and bookmakers, then it is easily within even Ashley's competence to prove as much. During the week the club produced a statement ostensibly in support of Hughton, suggesting that his contract would be renegotiated at the end of the season. Well, so you would jolly well hope, because that's when it expires.

Running down his contract keeps the sword dangling by a horsehair. What Ashley should be doing, of course, is putting a new, improved deal on the table immediately, if not before. That would shut people up. More to the point, it would show due gratitude for what Hughton has been doing. It might even start rumours on Tyneside that Ashley has half a brain. As Wenger knows, people are prepared to believe anything.

Real scandal is Pique's failure to make the Ballon d'Or's shortlist

Plenty of Englishmen have shared a fit of pique that not one of their compatriots has made the shortlist for the Ballon d'Or. This is of course a dreadful affront to Emile Heskey, Matthew Upson and Gareth Barry after their coruscating contributions to England's luckless World Cup adventure. To any neutral, however, Pique is a far more literal reaction to the Fifa list of 23.

Never mind the English. Apparently there have been seven better Spaniards playing football over the last year than Gerard Pique, whose blossoming since leaving Old Trafford qualifies him as perhaps the biggest blunder of the Sir Alex Ferguson era.

Apparently the theory was that the emerging Jonny Evans would render him superfluous to requirements. Ferguson has had many opportunities to repent in the meantime. Perhaps he thought of Pique's old head on young shoulders as Gary Neville, already booked, launched that senile assault on Matthew Etherington at Stoke last weekend. (And yes, Tony Pulis, you are right – that was a disgusting piece of refereeing.)

No matter how giddy the stage, or how frantic the play, Pique has pipe-smoking time on the ball. And when things get sticky – as he showed most memorably, albeit ultimately in a fruitless cause, against Internazionale last season – you can send him up front and marvel at a striker who would walk straight into the England team.

Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on TV
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Life & Style
The exterior of a central London Angus Steakhouse
food + drink
Sport
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives in the rain during the qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai
sport
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Arts & Entertainment
filmLife for Leslie Mann's can be challenging sometimes
Voices
For music lovers: John Cusack with his vinyl collection in 'High Fidelity'
voices...but don't forget rest of the year
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environment
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit