Watford 1 Newcastle United 2
THE last time two Newcastle United players came to blows on a football field, it was a sure-fire sign of the club’s capacity for self destruction.
When Alan Smith got stuck into Mike Williamson at the weekend, it was an indication the Magpies will not give up on the Premier League place they believe ought to be theirs without a fight.
Playing away from the only ground where they have won in 2010, changing in a condemned stand before heading onto a pitch churned up by the rugby heavyweights who regularly plod up and down it, then seeing the heavens open spectacularly, Saturday was a day for fighting spirit.
Granted, the away fans would have preferred their players attacking Watford’s goal rather than each other, but as long as it remains a one-off it will be cause for comfort in an era when English football is awash with faint-hearted mercenaries.
For much of the afternoon it looked like it might not come to that, the Magpies never dominant but in control from the moment Fabricio Coloccini’s fourth-minute header found the net.
But Will Hoskins’ injury-time goal frayed United nerves until a flashpoint which despite being minor was still out of keeping with a totally unspectacular game.
When Williamson made a rare slip on another impressive afternoon by Newcastle’s centre-backs, heading to an unmarked yellow shirt, Smith raised his hands as well as his voice.
This, though, was no repeat of Kieron Dyer v Lee Bowyer in 2005. That was an act of petulance between two bruised egos which ended with the hard-as-nails Graeme Souness wheeling both in front of the media like naughty schoolboys.
This time the mild-mannered Chris Hughton addressed the media alone to hail his squad’s spirit.
To use one of Souness’ favourite adjectives, Smith is a “proper” captain. He leads by example in every situation but it is never more noticeable than on horrible, backs-to-the-walls occasions like Saturday’s at Vicarage Road. Williamson may not have his snarling persona – few do – but his character had already been well showcased.
The centre-back took a dog’s abuse all day from supporters still jilted after he forced through a transfer from Watford to Portsmouth in August. Williamson must have realised what a spectacularly bad move that was by now, but the home fans reminded him every time he touched the ball.