Newcastle went sixth in the Premier League table yesterday with this victory – thanks to a Leon Best strike that embodied all that manager Alan Pardew asks from his side: spirit, endeavour and honesty – but the return of Mark Hughes (right) to management with QPR was the day's focus.
The referee, Chris Foy, must have been glad someone else was in the spotlight after his Vincent Kompany furore. He could have been red-carding again here when Shaun Derry ended Yohan Cabaye's day after 25 minutes with a late, sliding challenge. It was excessive force, a player's safety was clearly in danger (Cabaye was carried off on a stretcher, hurling insults at Derry) and it was also a lunge.
This time Foy went for yellow, and perhaps in the lack of reaction afterwards (Pardew: "It was probably a yellow"; Hughes: "I haven't watched it again") and the fortunate fact that Cabaye's damaged ankle was not expected to require a scan, the official may feel justified. We will worry about consistency on another day.
The challenge woke Newcastle from their lethargy, both on the field and in the stands. But Cabaye's loss meant Hatem Ben Arfa came on, and a spark went around St James' Park whenever he touched the ball after last week's mesmeric strike in the FA Cup.
He was again inventive, dangerous and a spanner in the works of Hughes' hastily constructed machine. It was not coincidental that Rangers' early authority began to disappear with Ben Arfa's introduction. Before that, their pressure had produced a rising drive from Shaun Wright-Phillips that clipped the top of Tim Krul's bar and a swerving shot from Akos Buzsaky that the goalkeeper did well to follow. Then Cabaye, 26 last Saturday, was carried off and all Rangers' momentum went with him.
In the 37th minute, Newcastle conjured up a marvellous goal. Jonas Gutierrez produced a stirring run on the right, his ball to Shola Ameobi was held up well and laid off to Ryan Taylor, whose momentum fortuitously took the ball into the path of Best, on the left-hand side of the penalty area. From there Best cleverly cut inside Young before subtly placing the ball beyond Paddy Kenny's outstretched arm for his first goal in 10 starts.
"Maybe with more care and more devilment we could have converted some of the many chances we created," said. Hughes. "But I was pleased with what we produced. The players' attitude and application was good."
Said Pardew: "There's money available. We'll take a player if we think one works for us, financially and for the team – we've got a really tight bunch here and we don't want to upset it."
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