Joey Barton's magnetic attachment to headlines was witnessed afresh last night but it was for the positive reason of a first goal at St James' Park in Newcastle United colours, a significant contribution to Newcastle's first Premier League victory since August.
Barton's 10th-minute penalty, only his second Newcastle goal since his £5.8m signing 17 months ago, set the Geordies on their way and although they reached the final whistle breathless and unconvincing, their interim manager, Joe Kinnear, was able to talk of drinking champagne afterwards. Newcastle are out of the relegation zone.
"It wasn't about how we played, it was about the three points," said Kinnear. "Otherwise it would have been back to doom and gloom again. We got off to an exceptional start and it could have been four or five [at half-time] but we looked a bit nervy after their goal. We were just desperate to get a first win. We were robbed against Manchester City, we've been threatening to do it and it was in our favour to play so quickly again after Sunderland. It gives everybody a great lift, not least myself. I don't know how long I'll be here "
Kinnear described Barton as being "on fire" in the dressing room but there was no suggestion of arson. Given that Obafemi Martins was the anticipated penalty-taker, Kinnear was glad that Barton's effort was successful. "He's got an opportunity to have a relationship with the fans now. He's been bought for over £5m and he has got to play up to that price."
Barton, starting his first match of the season, patted his badge as he celebrated the goal but at least he did not kiss it. He did little thereafter but he committed no bad tackles, was not booked and there were a couple of choruses of his name. With Michael Owen saying he is "confident" of being fit for next Monday's visit of Aston Villa, there is some good news at last. But Owen will wish to be back on penalty duties.
Kinnear could joke about that potential rivalry but deep down he knows there will have to be a large improvement all round if Villa are to be overcome – another "must-win", according to Kinnear.
But Martin O'Neill's team have a physicality and threat that Tony Mowbray's lacks. Mowbray said that he "likes" his team, but he also reflected ruefully on "woeful defending in the first half. We gave them a dream start."
Barton was central to it. After Shola Ameobi and Martins failed with early chances, on nine minutes Ameobi was upended clumsily in the area by Ryan Donk. Barton, starting in place of the injured Nicky Butt, stepped up and took the penalty. Scott Carson was sent the wrong way.
Newcastle were settled by the goal and Habib Beye should have made it 2-0 just before Martins did so with the interval beckoning. Beye missed that but it was his simple cross that Martins met with an unchallenged eight-yard header that again beat Carson. The goalkeeper was let down by some shocking defending, though.
With nine goals conceded in the last three matches, West Bromwich are much better at attacking. This had been shown in the 35th minute when a five-man slick passing move released James Morrison in the Newcastle area. The former Middlesbrough player was one-on-one with Shay Given and not for the first time, the Irishman kept his team-mates in it.
That enabled Newcastle to get further ahead, which was all important as the second half developed at West Bromwich's direction. Mowbray introduced Ishmael Miller for Chris Brunt and Miller's first real involvement brought him a goal.
Robert Koren was the supplier, with the diminutive midfielder finding space in the centre circle before delivering a defence-splitting pass that embarrassed Fabricio Coloccini and left the advanced Given exposed. Miller rounded the keeper and slotted the ball in.
Miller was close to snatching an equaliser soon afterward when he pounced on a deflected free-kick quicker than the Newcastle defenders, but Miller missed his chance, the hosts gasped for air and, just about, held on to the end.
Goals: Barton pen (10) 1-0; Martins (42) 2-0; Miller (65) 2-1.
Newcastle United (4-4-2) Given; Beye, Taylor, Coloccini, Enrique; Gutierrez (Geremi, 70), Barton, Guthrie, Duff; Ameobi (Carroll, 90), Martins (Xisco, 77). Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Bassong, Edgar, N'Zogbia.
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2) Carson; Zuiverloon, Donk, Olsson, Robinson; Koren, Greening, Morrison, Brunt (Miller, 54); Bednar (Moore, 67), Borja. Substitutes not used: Kiely (gk), Hoefkens, Cech, Macdonald, Pele.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: West Bromwich Albion Donk, Robinson, Bednar.
Man of the match: Martins.