Wolverhampton Wanderers have not won a top-flight fixture at Newcastle since the week the music died. They were en route to their third, and last, title in the original First Division, under the management of Stan Cullis and the captaincy of Billy Wright, when they beat Newcastle 4-3 on 7 February, 1959. That was the day that Buddy Holly was laid to rest at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas, and that Michael James McCarthy was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire.
Two months past his 52nd birthday, McCarthy had no joy on Tyneside yesterday. Victory would have clawed Wolves to within a point of the Magpies, but they were 3-0 down before they started to show any attacking teeth against a Newcastle side for whom Joey Barton pulled the strings with another highly composed, hugely influential performance.
"Joey was outstanding today," Newcastle manager Alan Pardew purred in the wake of an emphatic result that did much to dispel the relegation clouds that had been starting to gather on Tyneside. "We were back to what we are about today. We've still got some work to do but we're definitely safer."
The Magpies are up to ninth, 10 places and seven points ahead of Wolves, who drop to second from bottom. "We've had a bad 'un today," said McCarthy, who described some of his side's defending as of the "Keystone Kops" variety. "We'll regroup on Monday and get ready for Everton," he added. "We'll be better."
Barton was always likely to be a central figure, as he had been in the feisty 1-1 draw between the sides at Molineux in August. There were 12 bookings that day, several of them for robust challenges aimed at keeping the midfielder at bay.
Twice in the opening 10 minutes, Wolves had players yellow carded for mistimed tackles on Barton – George Elokobi and Nenand Milijas. On both occasions, Barton picked himself up and delivered free-kicks that very nearly compounded the punishment – Mike Williamson and Kevin Nolan testing Wayne Hennessey with headers.
When Wolves were finally undone, in the 22nd minute, it was Shola Ameobi who provided the key. The long-serving Magpie soared to head a Danny Simpson free-kick directly into the path of the breaking Nolan, who slid a scoring shot in between the legs of Hennessey for his 12th goal of the season.
Wolves almost turned the tide two minutes before half-time when Adam Hammill's heels were clipped by Nolan, who received his 10th booking of the season. From Jamie O'Hara's free-kick, a header by Sylvan Ebanks-Blake forced a fine save from Steve Harper. The visitors were still cursing their luck when Peter Lovenkrands despatched a cross from the left and Ameobi headed in at the far post.
Newcastle might have doubled their lead in the start of the second half but Hennessey thwarted Barton, then Lovenkrands struck a post. Still, they were in the comfort zone in the 50th minute, Barton combining brilliantly with Fabricio Coloccini before squaring the ball to Lovenkrands, shot first-time past Hennessey.
Just before the hour, Ebanks-Blake beat Harper with a low shot and the Magpies were in something of a flap for a while. They finished with a flourish, though, Gutierrez curling home in the third minute of injury time.
Referee: Mike Dean
Man of the match: Barton
Match rating: 7/10