They came for a day of drama and protest but if St James’ Park was looking for an insurrection then it was quashed early in the day by Mike Ashley, who appeared on television beforehand like a taciturn Politburo chairman to tell the people that nothing would change.
In the aftermath Newcastle won their first match since 28 February to survive in the Premier League, thanks in no small part to an opponent who looked even less enchanted with life than John Carver’s team have done of late. It must be said that the joy was short-lived at Newcastle, where they had no sooner applauded Jonas Gutierrez off down the tunnel than the anti-Ashley chants began again.
This is a club who know their only accomplishment of late, 15 place and survival by a margin of three points, is really no achievement at all. In the aftermath of victory, Carver claimed that the passion of the supporters had been comparable to that on the club’s glory nights in the Champions League but he was kidding no-one but himself. This unhappy, divided place cannot hide its feelings even if it was briefly united to see the team over the line.
It was fortunate for Newcastle that they found themselves up against a club whose mood was almost as dismal as their own. West Ham all but gave up the ghost in the second half and, on the stroke of full-time, the club finally confirmed the departure of Sam Allardyce. His contract will not be renewed and so begins the search for a man to reconnect team and supporters once again, while keeping the team in the Premier League for its maiden season at the Olympic Stadium.
Allardyce later declared himself pleased to be out of it and if the West Ham support were in two minds over their former manager it was only in the sense that they switched between singing “Fuck off Sam Allardyce” and “You’re getting sacked in the morning” over the course of the second half. Allardyce said that a great toll had been taken on his family over recent years and that he would not be back in charge of a club for the new season.
“You don’t want to overstay your welcome,” he said, enigmatically. By the end of his press conference he had revised his plans for a long holiday to include the possibility that he could be back in time for Christmas, when the sacking season begins anew.
It only took one moment of excellence to win the game - that was Moussa Sissoko’s excellent header on 54 minutes when he sent Winston Reid and Aaron Cresswell tumbling like skittles on his way to connecting with Gutierrez’s left wing cross. For much of the game, the stadium was braced for the news of a dreaded goal for Hull City, but it never came.
When Gutierrez, playing his last game for Newcastle, scored a second goal there was a wave of relief rather than joy. It was the Argentine’s first goal since his recovery from testicular cancer and he brushed off his celebrating team-mates to look up to the main stand and cup his ears. It looked like a pointed gesture at Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley for refusing him a new contract. Either way, it showed Newcastle’s capacity for division even in the moments that are supposed to be joyful.
You would have been forgiven for thinking, at times during the first half, that this was an end-of-season game with nothing whatsoever riding upon it rather than a potentially pivotal moment in the life of Newcastle. As for West Ham, it meant a great deal less.
In the first half Allardyce’s team had looked the more settled while the jittery mood around Newcastle seemed to affect their players too, no more so than the hapless Emmanuel Riviere who had three chance to score before Sissoko finally did. Allardyce said later that he has left behind him the foundations of a good team at West Ham, although it was hard to envisage what the completed project will look like on this evidence.
The early season promise has faded badly at West Ham, and on this occasion, everything Allardyce did seemed to jar with his supporters. They did not like the second half substitution of Enner Valencia. Carlton Cole, alone in attack, struggled to have an effect on the game. In the stands sat Andy Carroll, wearing sunglasses on a sunless North-east day – and no doubt wondering whether Allardyce’s successor will be for or against his style of football.
The unfortunate Riviere missed in the opening minute, and then scuffed a volley after the half hour. The best chance before the break fell to Stewart Downing, whose shot was well saved by Tim Krul. The worst was yet to come for Riviere in the second half when Daryl Janmaat beat Cresswell comprehensively to create a chance with which the hapless Riviere did not even make contact. Fortunately for Newcastle’s centre-forward, the goal from Sissoko came soon after.
That was made by Gutierrez, one of his team’s outstanding players, who crossed from the left and, in the centre, Sissoko exerted himself to head the ball in from close range. Even so, with just over half an hour to play, there was still some potential for Newcastle to blow this one.
After the goal there was an extraordinary moment when Vurnon Anita robbed the accident-prone Aaron Cresswell in the centre of the pitch and ran on goal with three team-mates in attendance. He seemed to change his mind at the very end and tried to square the ball, only for goalkeeper Adrian to pounce on it. There was a gasp at how such a crucial chance could be wasted.
Eventually, Gutierrez settled it with a shot from the left deflected off Carl Jenkinson on 86 minutes and the stadium could relax at last. Carver confidently declared himself in contention for the manager’s job at his post-match press conference but, with respect, if he is still in charge come next season then it will have been a summer of even more chaos than usual at Newcastle.
Ashley talked about investment in the squad and his brief interview seemed to be designed to calm the anxiety around the club in the short-term. You only had to see how short-lived the happiness was at full-time to know that it will not be that simple.
Newcastle (4-4-2): Krul 6; Janmaat 7, Coloccini 6, Williamson 6, Dummett 6; Sissoko 7, Anita 5 (Gouffran, 89), Colback 6, Gutierrez 7; Riviere 4, Cisse 5.
West Ham (4-2-3-1): Adrian 6; Jenkinson 5, Burke 5 (Tomkins, 69), Reid 5, Cresswell 4; Song 5, Nolan 5; Kouyate 5 (Lee, 77), Downing 6, Valencia 6 (Amalfitano, 62), Cole 4.
Referee: M Atkinson
Man of the match: Gutierrez
Rating: 5Reuse content