The unintended irony in Manchester City assistant manager Brian Kidd's appraisal of his midfielder's character – "Everybody knows Nigel de Jong" – might have been amusing had not the prodigiously talented young victim of the Dutchman's first challenge been preparing for the long haul to recovery from a broken leg last night.
The game was only four minutes old when Hatem Ben Arfa was scythed to the ground by De Jong's following leg and effectively caught in a pincer. It was as premature a departure from yesterday's game as from the Premier League for the Frenchman, who moved heaven and earth to escape Marseilles and join Newcastle.
"It was a challenge that did not need to be made," Chris Hughton said last night, which was ballistic stuff by his standards. This was different from the Newcastle manager saying the Dutchman had fouled his player, but the words summed up many of the challenges which too often put De Jong on the wrong side of the line of reasonable conduct. Just 12 minutes after the Ben Arfa challenge, he launched off again into a tackle on Ben Arfa's replacement, Wayne Routledge.
The tackling of De Jong – who was known as Rassenmaher ("lawnmower") in his Ajax days – is something of a running joke at City's Carrington training ground. David Silva first arrived this summer to find someone had posted up an image of De Jong's notorious challenge on his compatriot Xabi Alonso in the World Cup final. Perhaps it is because the timing of his tackles is relatively good that they do not look as horrific as, say, Wolves' Karl Henry's on Wigan's Jordi Gomez on Saturday or Stoke's Andy Wilkinson's on Fulham's Moussa Dembélé, which have intensified the debate on players' safety this season.
De Jong has actually never been sent off for City, though he was booked 12 times last season and twice this season. But a hair-raising challenge in Salzburg in the Europa League and several more at Wigan a week ago are no coincidence. "There's definitely no malice in Nigel de Jong," Kidd added. But lack of malice does not equate to lack of danger for those who confront him in the frantic pace of Premier League football.
That De Jong was not even booked for the challenge on Ben Arfa literally added insult to injury for Newcastle, who could only reflect on what a grimly unjust place the Premier League can be as they trooped home last night, two points off the bottom of the table, while City were elevated to second.
Referee Martin Atkinson, for whom this was not a glorious occasion, also allowed City a penalty after Carlos Tevez, having had taken two touches on an exquisite Jérôme Boateng pass, was tackled cleanly outside of the area by Mike Williamson, whose momentum then sent him clattering into the Argentine. Then, on the other side of the interval, he allowed Joleon Lescott to escape after taking Shola Ameobi's standing foot from under him in the area. "Two horrendous decisions," Hughton called it. Fair enough.
Tevez, whose good fortune extended to his penalty kick ricocheting off the goalkeeper Tim Krul's left knee high into the net, ran straight to embrace Roque Santa Cruz on the bench – the Paraguayan's wife has just had a baby – but it was Adam Johnson he perhaps ought to have sought out there.
The 23-year-old, born in Sunderland but both a fan and schoolboy player at Newcastle, is City's only consistent game-changer, Tevez aside, and it said much about his team-mates that his 18-minute cameo made him City's man of the match. The winning goal brought the moment of the match, too, Johnson taking down James Milner's pass, weaving inside Jose Enrique and firing home left-footed. "It's always part of the plan when you are on the bench to come on and score," Johnson said – more unintended irony, in light of manager Roberto Mancini's determination to keep him warming the seats.
Hughton's decision to keep Andy Carroll in reserve for the first time this season was curious given the expectation of an England call-up, though the manager said a virus had reduced his striker's performance levels. The levels reached by Cheik Tioté and Jonas Gutierrez, who smashed home a rebounded cross for his side's equaliser, suggests that this morning's League table undervalues Newcastle. Sol Campbell, making his first League appearance for Hughton after Fabricio Coloccini limped off with a groin strain, also coped well.
City will reflect that hitting second place while their squad is so obviously still bonding augurs well, and it gave Kidd some pleasure to reflect last night on another local team's fortunes. "With Manchester United dropping points yesterday, that was a good chance for us," he said.
Manchester City 4-1-4-1: Hart; Boateng, K Touré, Kompany, Lescott; De Jong; Barry (A Johnson, 72), Silva, Y Touré (Adebayor, 56), Milner; Tevez (Vieira, 86). Substitutes not used: Given (gk), Santa Cruz, Jo, Boyata.
Booked K Touré, Boateng, Tevez.
Newcastle United 4-4-1-1: Krul; Perch, Williamson, Coloccini (Campbell, 36), Enrique; Ben Arfa (Routledge, 7), Tioté, Barton, Gutierrez; Nolan (Carroll, 76); Ameobi. Substitutes not used: Soderberg (gk), Lovenkrands, R Taylor, Smith.
Booked Williamson, Coloccini.
Man of the match Tioté
Possession Man City 44% Newcastle 56%
Shots on target Man City 6 Newcastle 4
Referee M Atkinson (W Yorkshire) Attendance 46,167 Match rating 5/10.
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