Mark Hughes sees bright signs from QPR
Published 16/01/2012 | 08:00
Newcastle United 1 Queen's Park Rangers 0: He lasted just three minutes before the confines of the dugout proved too constrictive. Just after half past one, Mark Hughes was back in football management and at 1.33pm, officially back in business.
At that point it was with instructions to Luke Young about giving his new team more width. At that point, as for the first half hour, the new headmaster had a classroom sitting to full attention, players who had listened to what had effectively been a week of cramming. He barely left his technical area all afternoon.
By the end, however, Hughes was back in more familiar territory, brushing his right hand over his left in anger at the lack of tempo from his new players, and then lobbing a big insult at Chris Foy, the referee.
That relationship could have been far more fractious. Perhaps it all boils down to human nature; that after a week of vilification Foy really couldn't be bothered with any more grief.
Sending off Vincent Kompany during the Manchester FA Cup derby, a correct decision, placed him at the week's central talking-point. He could have been there again had he followed the same rules when Shaun Derry ended Yohan Cabaye's afternoon with a late, sliding challenge. It was excessive force, a player's safety was clearly in danger (Cabaye was carried from the field on a stretcher, hurling insults at Derry before throwing his gloves off in anger in the direction of the fourth official) and it was also a lunge.
This time Foy went for yellow, and perhaps in the lack of reaction afterwards (Alan 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. The loss of Cabaye was more than countered by the introduction of Hatem Ben Arfa. A spark went around St James' Park whenever Ben Arfa touched the ball as a consequence of the mesmeric strike that helped Newcastle into the fourth round of the FA Cup last week.
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 Newcastle goalkeeper did well to follow. Then Cabaye, who celebrated his 26th birthday on Saturday, was carried off and all Rangers' momentum went with him.
In the 37th minute, Newcastle conjured up an opening goal that seemed to embody what Pardew asks from his side – spirit, endeavour and honesty. 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 slightly fortuitously took the ball into the path of Leon Best, on the left-hand side of the visitors' penalty area. From there Best cleverly cut inside Young before subtly placing the ball beyond Paddy Kenny's outstretched left arm.
There was justifiable delight shown by Best, whose work-rate is sometimes overlooked, the goal being his first in 10 starts. It also proved the one moment in which any player from either team produced the kind of devilment that Hughes wanted from his side.
"Maybe with more care and more devilment we could have converted some of the many chances we created," the new QPR chief said. "But I was pleased with what we produced. The attitude and the application from the players was good.
"Certainly, I could see things that we tried to implement this week, things that we've told them time and time again; you could see that they've taken that on board – not everything will stick. It shows me that they're willing workers and that they want to improve as players."
A lack of devilment certainly applied to Jay Bothroyd, who twice spurned good opportunities early in the second half. First he shot over the crossbar after a Heidar Helgusson knockdown and then, when there was more accuracy to his low, angled drive, Krul had the reflexes to deny him at the near post.
Newcastle were not over-blessed with opportunities themselves. They had a noisy penalty appeal when Buzsaky appeared to handle the ball and then, when Kenny went AWOL, the head of Danny Gabbidon denied Guttierez's long- range effort.
That could not deflate Pardew, for whom the loss of Demba Ba andCheick Tioté to the African Cup of Nations has yet to prove significant.
"We find ourselves sixth, above Liverpool, after 21 games, not because of what happened today – we're there because we deserve to be there and it's about the next period of games," he said. "They're very, very important to us because if we can get a couple of wins when two boys are away we're going to get a hell of a boost when they come back and then we'll see what we can do.
"There's money available to me and I think 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."
Finding such togetherness is the first major task for Hughes – he stressed Joey Barton would not be sold – but his assertion that QPR will not go down has credibility.
Man of the match: Ben Arfa
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside)