Joey Barton helps Newcastle move on but leads tribute to departed Chris Hughton
Newcastle United 3 Liverpool: The half-protesting, half-celebratory chants of the departing Toon Army had just about faded into the night air by the time Alan Pardew took his seat in the press room to pick over the bones of his first match-day in charge of team affairs at the madhouse of Newcastle United.
"How far can you take this club?" he was asked. Having taken the team he inherited from Chris Hughton to a maiden victory, without the remotest sign of revolt on the pitch and without the natives baying for his blood, was probably far enough to be going on with.
The forecasted fans' protests amounted to a sustained rant directed squarely at Mike Ashley by a mob of a hundred or so outside the main entrance before kick-off time, and to some less than complimentary chanting about the Newcastle owner during the match. The players' revolt against the new manager that had been predicted in some quarters amounted to nothing other than Joey Barton dedicating his man-of-the-match champagne to Hughton. The response from Barton and his colleagues to the unwanted changing of the managerial guard was a rousing performance, whipped up by an impassioned Toon Army. It swept Liverpool aside and presented the kind of welcome mat Hughton's unpopular replacement could hardly have imagined amid the furore of his midweek appointment on a five-and-a-half year contract.
"Alan can take credit for that result," Kevin Nolan, the captain and leading light in the Newcastle dressing room, maintained. "He had to get us up for the game and he did that. He told us to forget what had happened and put our hearts into our performance on the pitch. It's a fantastic start for him."
It was Nolan who got the ball rolling, sweeping home a first-time shot on the quarter-hour after a Barton free-kick and an Andy Carroll head-down. It was the relentless driving force of Barton, though, that got Newcastle back on top after Dirk Kuyt scrambled in a deflected equaliser five minutes into the second half. It was the sometime England midfielder who toe-poked the Magpies back in front 10 minutes from time and who won the ball deep in home territory to start the move that culminated in Carroll's cracker of a third goal, a thumping 25-yard drive in injury time.
"Any talk of revolt towards Alan was nonsense," Nolan added. "He is our gaffer and we have to work under him. It's a difficult situation for him to come into. He wants to make sure we don't resent him and we don't. We don't resent anybody.
"The owners have the final say at this club and we have to respect that. Derek Llambias [Newcastle's managing director] was good enough to come down to talk to us the other day. We wanted some answers and Derek explained the decision to us. It was straight talking in the dressing room. It was a private meeting and nothing was over-boiled. It's done and dusted now. We have to move on."
Newcastle move on under their new manager to a trip to Birmingham this coming Saturday with a first win under their belt in six matches, their first at St James' since Nolan's hat-trick heroics in that 5-1 demolition derby against Sunderland in October.
"The win today makes life a lot easier for my management," Pardew reflected. "After one game it's difficult to answer any question about how far I can take this club, but I have a long-term vision. That is to create a team that can threaten the top half of the Premier League. Get there, and the momentum can take you higher."
Scorers: Newcastle Nolan 15, Barton 80, Carroll 90; Liverpool Kuyt 49. Substitutes: Newcastle Ranger (Ameobi, 63), Smith (Nolan, 87), Routledge (Barton, 90). Liverpool Babel (Ngog, 72), Jovanovic (Rodriguez, 85). Booked: Newcastle Gutierrez, Tiote Liverpool Johnson. Man of the match Barton
Match rating 7/10.
Possession Newcastle 47% Liverpool 53%. Shots on target Newcastle 3 Liverpool 5.
Referee L Mason (Lancashire) Att 50,137.