It was a strident confrontation that seemed to mark a line in the sand, and a shifting in the dressing-room dynamic. Could Newcastle have evolved with Nolan still in the camp?
He was not a disruptive influence like Barton, but perhaps his man’s man approach would not be quite as effective in United’s cosmopolitan squad, with its chemistry that allows flawed maestros like Hatem Ben Arfa to prosper.
Tomorrow he returns in the claret of West Ham, the club – ironically – which he helped drain the fighting spirit out of that day in autumn 2010, and it seems like the time is ripe for re-evaluation.
Alan Pardew worked with Nolan for five months and was supportive of the midfielder. He did not want him to go but recognised the collision that was on the horizon when Nolan’s contract difficulties began to over-shadow his importance to the club.
There was no great betrayal – and the two remain on good terms – but Pardew had to let him go for the greater good.
Not that the manager subscribes to the idea that Newcastle have “moved on”. No, he contends, both Carroll and Nolan would be welcome in his squad.
“Both of those players would be good additions to this squad, but players have to move on for the sake of the team,” he explained.
“That’s the Andy Carroll one. Kevin was a bit different, he wanted a long contract we wouldn’t commit to, but he got one at West Ham. He deserves it because he is a great player, but the board didn’t think the long contract for Kevin was something he would get here.”
If he scores tomorrow afternoon, there might be a wink in the direction of the boardroom – even if the player would be unlikely to celebrate. Pardew admits it is a distinct possibility considering the ability that the midfielder possesses.
“He can do that, he has been terrific for West Ham and a major factor in them having as many points as they have,” he said.
“He’s a leader. In all my time, without a doubt, he is the best finisher I’ve seen as a midfield player, you have to almost class him as an attacker with his finishing technique. He will get a shot on target and he is a very clever player.”
Newcastle’s stunning success in their first season after Nolan means that few supporters would yearn for his return.
But United, who are performing so admirably in Europe this year, now need to begin to consolidate in their third year back in the top flight.
Thus far their Premier League form has been mixed. “The big thing for me is we have only lost twice in the league,” Pardew said.
“Think when you look at clubs in mid-table, that’s always a good indication of whether they are going to be a success and come forward.
“It’s not often you can lose less than 10 games in a season and not finish in the top six.
“We’ve had some really tough away games and we have been down to 10 men in the last two. I’m actually quite pleased and a win on Sunday would put us in a great position.”
Carroll will be back, too, along with Sam Allardyce. Pardew will reserve a handshake for both, and for Nolan.
“The position we are in, if I’m honest, is because we used the money from Andy’s sale well,” he said.
“He was a brilliant player for us, but the fee was astronomical. We’ve used it well and we owe a great debt to him. I’m looking forward to seeing them both and I enjoyed working with them.
“There will be a lot on the game, Kevin will be determined to get a result, as will Andy and the manager coming back. He won the last time he came back.”