A match between two teams possessing identical Premiership records this season was always likely to be a close-fought affair but Newcastle United, with a bit of help from the referee, Dermot Gallagher, did just enough to beat Blackburn Rovers yesterday and so move above them in the table.
Controversy and Blackburn are never, it seems, very far away these days. Late in the first half, just after Newcastle had established an unlikely two-goal lead through Obafemi Martins and Steven Taylor, Gallagher sent off Stéphane Henchoz following an untidy tangle with Martins. A booking seemed the logical punishment, but the official decided Henchoz was the last defender and, to the amazement of Ewood Park, showed him a straight red card.
Needless to say, Mark Hughes, the Blackburn manager, was not impressed. "At worst it was a foul," he said. "I'm certain it wasn't a sending-off offence. He was 40-odd yards from goal, for goodness' sake."
Hughes also thought Newcastle's first two goals were offside. "It was a foul and he was the last man so he had to go," was the interpretation of Glenn Roeder.
Rovers had to play the whole of the second half with 10 men and even though Morten Gamst Pedersen dipped into his repertoire of the spectacular to pull a goal back just after the restart, they have now won only one of their past nine games in the Premiership.
Martins added his second of the game and sixth of the season on the break in injury time with Brad Friedel having gone forward for a corner.
"Martins is lightning over the first few yards and will leave most defenders behind," said Roeder. "He's now showing what we've been seeing in training every day and those who have criticised him should be careful." This was Newcastle's third successive League win - they are now unbeaten in eight games, with one defeat in the last 12.
Martins was a danger from the very start and on 31 minutes he pursued Antoine Sibierski's through ball. There was plenty still to do but his first touch was perfect followed by a crashing left-footed finish past Friedel.
Newcastle doubled their lead four minutes later. Nicky Butt's cross travelled all the way to Charles N'Zogbia and he turned the ball back into the goalmouth. Pedersen's clearance fell to Taylor, who finished from close range for his first Premiership goal.
There was still time before the interval for Henchoz's dismissal. Since Martins can run 100 metres in under 11 seconds, a race between the two is a complete mismatch and the veteran Swiss knew as much, putting his arm across his opponent's chest with acres of turf ahead of them.
It forced Hughes into two half-time changes, which looked like damage limitation prior to Pedersen's moment of brilliance. James Milner allowed the Norwegian to drift off his wing and cut inside, from where, some 25 yards out, he unleashed an unstoppable right-foot drive into the top corner.
Injuries to Emre (ankle) and Nolberto Solano (hamstring), will concern Roeder but his side held on for the win, which was confirmed by the late Martins goal. Their next opponents are Chelsea on Wednesday night. "If we lose more players we'll be sending a youth team to Stamford Bridge," said Roeder.Reuse content