Rebel provides a cause for army of followers

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The Independent Online

At half-time on Tyneside last night, Mark Allison stepped on to the pitch to take a bow in recognition of the 3,100-mile run he completed across the United States last Tuesday.

As a paid-up member of the Toon Army, the Geordie Forrest Gump is well aware that his beloved black-and-whites are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get.

One week your star player is raging against the club machine, tweeting his way on to the (free) transfer list and being banished to the naughty step of the kids' training pitch. The next – well, the week after next – he is walking out to a hero's reception, ready to play his part in the new Newcastle.

It seemed a smart move on Alan Pardew's part to get Joey Barton back on-side – or sufficiently on-side to pull on the No 7 shirt, put in an opening- day shift and keep his more cutting thoughts to himself. In the calm of the home dressing room, the St James' rebel restricted his tweets to quoting Nietzsche ("In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play") and commenting on events in Cardiff ("Referees in rugby are different class").

Barton might be at odds with the powers that be at Newcastle but then so are the Toon Army. His name on the team sheet was always going to have a galvanising effect – all the more so, given the identity of the opposition. It was Barton, with a 68th-minute penalty, who led the fightback to parity from the 4-0 deficit position the Magpies found themselves in the last time the Gunners were on Tyneside.

"There's only one Joey Barton," the Toon Army chorused. There certainly is. That much was underlined 15 minutes from the end of a fitful goalless draw.

Barton might have been a chilled-out Renaissance Midfield Man of late, tweeting about Nietzsche and Virgil – the Roman poet rather than the Thunderbirds puppet – but the trouble with the Newcastle No 7 is that you never quite know what you're going to get.

For 59 minutes there were some rusty touches and one or two sharp ones, playing in colleagues behind enemy lines. Then there was a sudden flash of the short fuse.

A robust challenge from Alex Song, and what appeared to be a stamp, left Barton clutching his right ankle – and then rising sharply to wag an admonishing finger. Then, with 15 minutes to go, the fuse blew.

When Gervinho fell to the ground under a challenge from Cheik Tiote, Barton made a bee-line for the debutant Gunner and picked him up by the shirt-front. Whether he was quoting the passage from the Dalai Lama that he tweeted last Thursday ("You must not consider tolerance and patience to be signs of weakness; I consider them signs of strength") was uncertain.

Gervinho took offence, aiming a slap that sent Barton crashing to the canvas as if he had been struck by a Jake La Motta haymaker. Barton, sporting Travis Bickle hairstyle, was restrained from retaliating.

The Arsenal slapper was shown the red card but Barton only yellow. Perhaps Peter Walton, the referee, is one of the 28,000 souls who have been following Joey's tweets about tolerance. Arsène Wenger is probably not.

The Arsenal manager stood with arms outstretched in disbelief on the touchline. "You know he has not been hit hard enough to lie down for two minutes," Wenger said later. "He got away with it here last season and he got away with it again tonight."

Pardew saw it differently. "I think Joey's rushed in to chastise him and in doing so he's grabbed Joey and there's a tussle," the Newcastle manager said. "Then he slapped him, and you can't do that.

"Joey's an opinionated guy and he expresses his opinions. I'm not going to defend him to the hilt. I've had my own summer with Joey. But I thought he was fantastic tonight."

Fantastic enough to remain in the Premier League race with Newcastle for the ultramarathon of the season, not just the sprint of the opening weeks? We, and the Geordie Forrest Gump, shall see.

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