Newcastle United 2 Birmingham City 1: Beye strike gives Allardyce surer footing in the rain
Three points in his pocket, back-slaps from his staff and some welcome longer term support from his chairman singing in his ears, Sam Allardyce's long, long fortnight came to an end amid sleet and smiles on Saturday. That victory over Birmingham City was undeserved did not matter, Allardyce said, this was a win that brought Newcastle United further space and a more sure footing.
It even enabled Tyneside to think beyond the next 90 minutes, to January and next summer. A week ago that did not feel possible but for chairman Chris Mort to tell the local Sunday newspaper yesterday: "Sam and I are making plans about what's happening next summer in terms of signings," seems as significant as Mort's description of the 1-1 draw at Sunderland last month as "another" disappointing performance.
It is proof that points change perspectives although that short-term alteration should not disguise longer-term trends. It is micro v macro and the underlying fragility of Newcastle would have been seen had Habib Beye not plonked in an unexpected winner from Emre's corner in injury-time. Boos and another bout of speculation regarding Allardyce would have met the final whistle, yet Mort's phrase about forward planning would have stood: he said what he said before last Wednesday's draw with Arsenal.
However, Allardyce, Mort and every fan knows that the wrestling between short and long term is one of football's great conflicts. The fact is that performances shape opinion as much as results, so while plenty in the crowd went home happily drenched, others in the sub-50,000 attendance were less convinced. In the longer term, how you win matters as much as victory itself.
For now, 18 games into the job, Allardyce does not share that view. "There's only one way to play and that's to play to win," he said. "Everyone keeps going on about this Bolton style, but we've never played it since I've been here. Some of the perception is just because I've come from Bolton, but we don't play like that because we haven't got that sort of player. We played four up front at one stage. Some people might say that's not Sam Allardyce football, but only I know who Sam Allardyce is.
"It does rankle that I'm labelled the way I am. You get nailed with that tag and it comes from other managers because we beat them at Bolton on a regular basis. But we played with Djorkaeff, Okocha, Hierro, N'Gotty, Campo, world-class players. I'm sick of repeating myself, it was only there when we beat big teams like Liverpool or Chelsea.
"But Chelsea played exactly the same way as we did to win games when they needed to. That wasn't deemed long-ball. It was deemed long passing, so there you go. If you look at Arsenal on Wednesday night, how many long balls did they play off Adebayor? 'Lots' is the answer to that, because I've got the ProZone stats."
Allardyce's delight that Beye scored from a set-piece was matched by his annoyance at David Rozehnal's sloppy defending early on that enabled Cameron Jerome to nip in and round Shay Given. In Alex McLeish's second game in charge, Blues were bright and composed yet long before Beye's winner the visitors were slack on defending set-pieces. James Milner and Obafemi Martins both should have scored to add to Martins' 37th minute penalty-kick.
All the talk had been about this being the first of four "winnable" games for Newcastle, but for Birmingham it is now Reading, Middlesbrough and Fulham at home and Bolton away. By Boxing Day perceptions of both these clubs may have changed again.
Golas: Jerome (9) 0-1; Martins pen (37) 1-1; Beye (90) 2-1.
Newcastle United (4-4-2) Given; Beye, Rozehnal, Taylor, N'Zogbia; Geremi (Emre 71) Butt (Viduka 30) Barton, Milner; Martins (Enrique 90) Smith. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Edgar.
Birmingham City (4-5-1) Taylor; Kelly, Ridgewell, Schmitz, Sadler; De Ridder (Forssell 76) Nafti, Muamba, Larsson, McSheffrey (Kapo 62); Jerome. Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Parnaby, O'Connor.
Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).
Booked: Newcastle Barton; Birmingham Nafti, Larsson.
Man of the match: Jerome.