Joey Barton wasted little time in dedicating his first goal at St James' Park to all the people he has let down.
The Newcastle United midfielder, pilloried by the nation and pelted with missiles on his return to action in the 2-1 defeat to Sunderland on Sunday, has been left in little doubt about the size of the task as he attempts to rehabilitate himself both on and off the pitch.
However, he took one small step on the way to repairing the damage he has done to his reputation and that of the club which paid £5.8m for his services by setting them on the road to a vital victory over West Bromwich Albion in the Barclays Premier League on Tuesday night.
Barton's ninth-minute penalty – he grabbed the ball and smashed it past the goalkeeper Scott Carson even though Obafemi Martins had been nominated for any spot-kicks – set up the home team for what proved to be a nervy 2-1 victory, and the 26-year-old could hardly have been more pleased.
"That was for all our fans and all the people I have let down," he said. "My only wish now that it is the first of many. Once the referee pointed to the spot, I really fancied it – although I know a lot of the other players did as well.
"It [the pressure] was never an issue. I am always one to step up to the plate. One thing that can never be levelled at me is that I have lacked courage. Through my own stupidity, I have had to come back from things, and that has shaped me for what I have got to do."
Barton's timing could not have been much better, with his first start since being released from jail in July coming as the club attempted to shake off the disappointment of derby defeat and prevent their season from spiralling further out of control.
In truth, they might have already been ahead before he struck had Carson not produced a fine reaction save to deny Martins, and although his opposite number Shay Given had to make an important 35th-minute stop to deny James Morrison an equaliser, the game should have been won by the break.
It was, effectively, when Martins headed home Habib Beye's driven 42nd-minute cross, but the home fans in a crowd of 45,801 had not accounted for a second-half fightback by West Brom which only just came up short.
Substitute Ishmael Miller pulled a goal back with 25 minutes remaining, and might have doubled his tally eight minutes later had it not been for Given's block. But a combination of committed, if at times haphazard, defending and good fortune saw Joe Kinnear's team through to just their second league victory of the season and lifted them out of the relegation zone.
Barton, who was named man of the match by the sponsors, said: "Perhaps I got the award because I picked up a bit of the sentimental vote. But individual awards and club plaudits are not really for me. It is more important that Newcastle United get the success it deserves and craves, and if we win 2-1 and I don't score or get the man-of-the-match award, I would take that every time."
Given, who was captain for the night, was delighted to have played his part in a hugely important win. "I couldn't remember what it felt like to win a game, to be honest," he said. "We really felt it was a big chance for us to get a victory. We are nowhere near out of trouble, but it's nice to be out of the bottom three, and hopefully we can get some confidence from this."
But if there was a sense of relief on Tyneside, there was disappointment within the away team's camp as manager Tony Mowbray was once again left to bemoan missed chances.
"You watch the team in the second half and it gives you confidence we will be fine this season, and I am sure we will be," he said. "We have just got to be more clinical in the final third. The way we play, the way we can retain the ball and push teams back, we have got to stick the ball in the net. Either the ones we have at the club do that, or I will find somebody in January who can do it."Reuse content