Newcastle United 1, Blackburn Rovers 2
WELL, Joe Kinnear is finally here with his thick skin and iron-like chin. The only problem is nobody seems to know, least of all Newcastle United’s new manager, how long for.
Kinnear mumbled his way through several contradictory statements following Newcastle’s home defeat by Blackburn Rovers, insisting first that he had signed a contract for the next six games, before extending that to eight moments later, while all the time suggesting the club will be sold after just four.
Clearly, whatever contract has been signed, nothing is set in stone and if owner Mike Ashley cannot find a buyer willing to meet his asking price – the billionaire is looking for something in the region of £300m – Kinnear will be here for considerably longer than just a few weeks.
Having accepted the job on Friday by declaring Kevin Keegan – and possibly even Alan Shearer – had already been lined up to replace him he skipped around that issue over the weekend and it seems his initially bold statement about the future of the manager’s job at St James’s Park was made without much authority other than what appears to have been a flippant comment from Ashley when he offered him the job.
The Irishman with the broad London accent was not the only one confused and apparently disorientated at St James’s Park. Around 7,000 Newcastle fans failed to even make it to the game while the team did a pretty good disappearing act in the first half as the visitors eased themselves into a two-goal lead.
We were not told if there was a door separated from its hinges in the home dressing room, but Kinnear certainly had something to say to the players at half time and whatever it was got the right sort of reaction.
The former Wimbledon manager could be seen prowling around in the tunnel – he is unable to sit in the dugout as he is serving a two-game touchline ban from his time at Nottingham Forest four years ago when he called a referee Coco the Clown – towards the end of the second half and it is safe to assume he dispensed with the niceties while introducing himself to the players. Quite right – handshakes and get-to-know-you games can wait.
The 11 out on the pitch had waved their right to polite hellos with a dismal performance which made a mockery of all their talk of focus and professionalism. They looked dejected and depressed and, appallingly for such a highly-paid bunch, appeared intent on going through the motions on the way towards a fifth successive defeat.
For all of the talk of distractions and a lack of direction and leadership, it should not need a manager for a professional footballer to concentrate on the man he is marking at a set-piece, it does not need a manager to get an international footballer to pass the ball five yards and it does not need a manager for someone to clear the first defender with a set-piece.
Newcastle’s beleaguered players – they do deserve some sympathy for the conditions they have had to work under this season – wanted to take the easy way out. Kinnear would not let them.
For all of Kinnear’s limitations after nine years away from Premier League management he will not allow Newcastle to slip to the sort of meek surrenders which have become their forte during these recent troubles.
Given the short time he has to work in, Kinnear knows he has to rebuild shattered confidence, but he will do so with a foot up the backside as well as an arm around the shoulder. Egos have been massaged for too long, it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get the hands dirty because Newcastle need to start digging themselves out of a hole.
Blackburn could have inflicted a thrashing in the first half as they sliced through Newcastle’s flimsy midfield and poured through a leaky back line. In attack, Newcastle were impotent, with passes failing to find their targets, movement limited and set-pieces cleared easily whenever a half-promising situation had been created.
Rovers took the lead when Christopher Samba was allowed a free header by a daydreaming Steven Taylor from a free kick and their second came when a decent cross from Carlos Villanueva was headed home by Roque Santa Cruz.
In the meantime, Shay Given had to make two sharp saves to deny Santa Cruz and Sebastien Bassong cleared Matt Derbyshire’s header off the line.
Newcastle, though, rallied after the break and if the quality was sometimes lacking, the determination returned. Damien Duff was superb on the left, Charles N’Zogbia suddenly interested in midfield, Xisco hardworking in an unfamiliar target man role and Michael Owen busy as ever.
It was United’s captain who pulled a goal back, converting from the spot after Ryan Nelson had bundled him over and had Geremi – pronounced Jeremiah by Kinnear after the game – turned in Duff’s cross moments later rather than trying to take it down, Newcastle may have gone on to win. It was another defeat, but we may have seen the first signs of a recovery.