When Patrick Kluivert was caught by a tabloid photographer leaving a Soho nightclub at 2am on Thursday, Graeme Souness maintained he was merely offended by the style of the Dutchman's shirt. Such dextrous handling by the supposed iron man of football management reaped an instant reward yesterday as Kluivert removed his black- and-white shirt in celebration of the goal that set Newcastle United on course to their third win out of three under Sir Bobby Robson's successor.
It earned the Newcastle No 9 a yellow card, referee Mike Riley taking exception to the sight of his white vest, but that was an incidental price for three points that were ultimately won with ease against a crumbling West Bromwich Albion.
The turning point came in the 64th minute, when Darren Purse, Albion's death-wish captain, was dismissed for a second booking. Kluivert's goal, his fourth in four starts, came six minutes later. James Milner and Alan Shearer also got on the scoresheet before Geoff Horsfield headed in a late goal for an Albion side who are still without a win this season and who seem likely to be without a manager before very long.
Such a spectacular capitulation was the last thing Gary Megson needed, on the back of a Carling Cup defeat at Colchester and an ever-deteriorating relationship with his chairman, Jeremy Peace. Bolton's visit to The Haw-thorns next Saturday is already being billed as Megson's last stand. Not that the one-time Newcastle midfielder is quaking in his shoes. "I'm feeling no more pressure than anyone else to get results," he said. "What's going on off the field I can't do a lot about."
Megson could do precious little about what occurred on the field yesterday as the Albion infighting continued. Two weeks ago it was Thomas Gaardsoe and a member of the coaching staff coming to blows on the team bus on the way back from Anfield. Yesterday it was Purse swinging an elbow in the direction of Andy O'Brien, only to connect with Riccardo Scimeca, who departed temporarily with a bloodied nose.
Having been cautioned seconds earlier for scything down Craig Bellamy, Purse was fortunate in only catching one of his colleagues. Then again, Lee Bowyer was lucky to escape with only a booking for a vicious two-footed challenge on Robert Earnshaw as the opening half threatened to descend into the realms of a slug-fest.
It had started brightly for Newcastle, with Bellamy shifted from right-wing duties to a striking role alongside Shearer, and Kluivert deployed at the apex of a midfield diamond formation. Kluivert, Bellamy and Bowyer all went close before the tide turned when the ineffectual Earnshaw made way for Horsfield after the interval.
Although Bowyer curled a shot on to Russell Hoult's crossbar, Albion were in the ascendancy until Purse chased Kluivert down the left and was sent off for what the referee deemed to be a second bookable offence, an attempted tug at the Dutchman. It left Albion with their backs to the wall, and soon after Hoult was beaten, the goalkeeper parrying a Laurent Robert shot to Kluivert, who scored with a right-footed drive.
It was 2-0 in the 78th minute, Jermaine Jenas squaring a ball from the right for Milner - like Robert, an influential substitute - to apply the finishing touch at the second attempt, from close range. Shearer poked in a third goal for Newcastle, courtesy of some further astute scheming from Jenas. Then, with three minutes to go, came Horsfield's header. It was no consolation for the Baggies and their increasingly beleaguered manager.