Duff shows the way to bring cheer to stricken manager

West Bromwich Albion 2 Newcastle United 3
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The Independent Online

Another torrid week, not to mention a deeply worrying day in the life of Newcastle United, at least finished with something to celebrate. As Joe Kinnear continued to be monitored in hospital after falling ill at the team hotel yesterday morning, his players were winning a match that might be seen as a turning point in this most vexing of seasons.

Of course, the health of their manager and any long- or short-term advice from his doctors may mean that this particular Premier League fixture will be noted by the Geordies as significant whatever. But in terms of points won and lost, the table had taken on a far more pleasing look for Newcastle last night. They arrived knowing they could even end up bottom of the division; they left in 13th, four points clear of the relegation places.

"These are a good group of lads who are fond of Joe and appreciate the job he has done," said Kinnear's assistant coach, Chris Hughton, who took control yesterday. "They were aware what happened and I'm sure that was in their minds when they went out there. They showed good character." Hughton refused to say any more about Kinnear's condition, except, "Let me just say, he's OK".

It is a shame Kinnear missed his side's first win in seven League games, if only because his three signings in the transfer window had no small influence on the result. Ryan Taylor was a constant threat down the right flank, Kevin Nolan probed and cajoled as he always did at Bolton, and Peter Lovenkrands was alert to many of the West Bromwich defence's myriad cock-ups. Lovenkrands grabbed his first goal for the club, in the ninth minute, although by then The Hawthorns had already witnessed two goals in a dramatic and almost farcical beginning.

It took Damien Duff just 62 seconds to latch on to Albion botch-up No 1: Leon Barnett stumbled and allowed Shola Ameobi's innocuous pass under his feet, and a grateful Duff fired past Scott Carson. One hundred and forty seconds later, Marc-Antoine Fortune, the West Bromwich striker on loan from Nancy, equalised by taking advantage of a slip by Steven Taylor and burying Borja Valero's centre with a rasping drive.

The game went quite after that. For four minutes, anyway. Then Loven-krands turned in Nicky Butt's cute ball after Ryan Taylor's volley rebounded off a defender, and the travelling Toon Army were back in raucous song. They remained there as the Baggies' back four lost leave of their faculties and let Newcastle enjoy chance after chance. By the time Steven Taylor appeared at the far post to head in the corner of his namesake, Ryan, four minutes before the break, Newcastle's third goal was overdue. As was Mowbray's rollicking to his dysfunctional defenders.

Fortune capped an impressive display by notching his second, clinically finding the corner of the net in the 73rd minute after being played in by the substitute Filipe Teixeira. It set up a frenetic ending, and West Bromwich had their opportunities to level, Valero heading wide and Teixeira driving close by. But, in truth, it would have been a travesty. Newcastle could and should have scored at least one more themselves in the second period. No matter. On the whistle a number of their players punched the air indelight. Perhaps it was not quite a "That was for you, Joe" moment. But it sure would have felt like it.

In contrast, this seemed nothing short of a disastrous afternoon for Albion. Many more defensive performances as wretched as this and their relegation fight will be bloody indeed. "We shot ourselves in the foot today," Mowbray said. "You can't defend like that in the Premier League. All three goals were gifts. It was Keystone Cops defending, really."

Attendance: 25,817

Referee: Chris Foy

Man of the match: Duff

Match rating: 7/10

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