There is often a circularity to football: Newcastle were 11th when Mike Ashley sacked Sam Allardyce; Allardyce was back at St James’ Park as manager of West Ham yesterday; and Kevin Nolan, the former Newcastle captain who was sold 16 months ago, scored in the 38th minute.
It was a match-winning goal that moved his newly promoted side up to sixth in the table. Nolan pounced at the Gallowgate End, where many of the 30 goals he scored during his two and a half years at the club were scored. For the first time, he did not celebrate.
Andy Carroll, the forward who was sold by Newcastle for £35m to Liverpool and who was hounded relentlessly on his return last season with the Reds, was a makeshift third central defender late on for West Ham, and chested a 94th-minute cross back to his goalkeeper. He ended up man-marking Demba Ba, the centre-forward who was signed to replace him. Carroll also almost scored, after having been set up by Nolan.
“It was a perfect scenario for me to score the winner,” said Nolan. “It was quite emotional when I did score the goal: I had a little moment with Mark Noble afterwards. I did say I was never going to celebrate scoring against Newcastle and I never will. I love Newcastle and love everything about it – I made so many friends here along with my family. My boy is a Geordie, he was born here.
“That was down to the support I received when I was here. I’m just delighted for us because it got us the result and it moves us further up the table and it keeps us in the mix really.
“What we’re trying to do at West Ham is what we tried to do at Newcastle. When we came up it was about getting them back to where they belonged and then eventually into Europe. That’s what I feel that West Ham should do.”
Yesterday’s defeat left Newcastle 10th in the Premier League, one place higher than when Allardyce departed, back in January 2008.
The dismissal almost led Allardyce to quit management. He was encouraged to do so by his wife. He felt it was his one shot at one of England’s big clubs, and in eight months it ended.
Victory, although he did not admit it, will always be more special when he returns to St James’ Park. That is human nature.
Instead, he chose to focus on the performance and the resounding form this season of Nolan, whose goal was his fifth in the Premier League since the club returned to England’s elite.
“It’s our captain who is our leading scorer, who has got us the points with the goal,” he said. “His instinct in front of goal is there for us all to see. That’s five goals in 11 games now, for a midfielder and captain to get that tally is fantastic.
“Kevin’s relationship with Andy [Carroll] is such a good one, I don’t need to do a lot of coaching with those two. Kevin will instinctively play off Andy and vice-versa. That combination is causing lots of problems. We have 18 points after 11 games and that is an outstanding start.”
That is beyond dispute. As indeed was their superiority. This game was symptomatic of two things: West Ham’s growing power and belief, and Newcastle’s disjointed campaign. After 11 games no one is sure if they are doing well or badly. What Everton are doing this season, Newcastle did last, challenging to be in the top six. It raised expectations, and so far, in the Premier League, they have not been met.
Mohamed Diame was a force in midfield that Newcastle could not stop. Nolan’s wit and invention saw him score, go close twice and tee up Carroll in the 72nd minute with a chance that, but for Tim Krul’s brilliant right-handed save, would have brought serious consternation down from the St James’ Park stands.
Hatem Ben Arfa probed and saw a shot saved well by Jussi Jaaskelainen, low to his left. The goalkeeper then denied Ba in the 47th minute, although there was a half-hearted appeal that it had gone over the line.
In there somewhere is the fact that Newcastle were forced to live off the scraps, and they are clearly not the same side as last season.
“It is proving difficult to get into the rhythm at home,” admitted manager Alan Pardew. “Away from home we have been strong and dogged without pulling up trees. At home we need to perform better than we did today.
“I didn’t think Europe had much impact here. We played a different side. We have only had a couple of days to prepare, but I don’t want to make the Europa League an excuse. We had a good mindset today and we just didn’t click.”
It is November, and it still feels as though Newcastle, who finished fifth last season, are yet to do that. West Ham, on the other hand, continue to grow in belief.
Bookings: NU Ben Arfa. WH Noble, O’Brien
Man of match Nolan
Match rating 6/10.
Possession: NU 50%. WH 50%
Ref M Dean (Merseyside)