Glasgow Rangers 2 Newcastle United 1
PETER Løvenkrands has been Newcastle United’s forgotten man this summer.
Overshadowed by Andy Carroll’s elevation to the feted number nine shirt, Shola Ameobi’s enduring effectiveness, Leon Best’s sudden goal rush and even Xisco’s unlikeliest of comebacks, United’s Great Dane has been forced to operate in the shadows during the pre-season phoney war. It is a curious role for a striker whose influence during the promotion campaign was profound.
Contending with personal tragedy and a lack of pre-season preparation he still managed to grab 16 goals during United’s Championship season – testament to a keen football brain that should be a major asset among tougher opposition this term.
Handed the briefest of opportunities on Saturday, he gave Chris Hughton a hefty reminder of his ability ahead of the serious business next week.
With an opportunist goal and a lively cameo to his credit, he may yet have persuaded the United boss there is another way at Old Trafford.
Aware that Hughton will be relying more heavily on a 4-5-1 formation this season Løvenkrands remains realistic about the rolling back of ambition, and the knock-on effect it will have on him.
Hughton’s first instinct away from home – and even, as he admitted to The Journal on Saturday, occasionally against the big guns at home – will be to replicate the starting XI he sent out at Ibrox, with Carroll leading the line and Kevin Nolan tucked in behind him. It leaves Løvenkrands, for all his canny work in and around the box, relegated to the role of impact substitute unless he can turn in many more performances like this.
“I’m going to be positive and hope I can play in as many games as possible,” he said afterwards.
“Even if I’m not starting in some away games, I can still have an impact. I came on and got a goal with my first touch, and sometimes it’s as important to have an impact like that as it is to start a game. If you’re playing against one of the top teams in the Premier League, the early part of the game is often about keeping it tight and frustrating them. Then maybe you can hit them on the break.
“There’s been a lot of talk about the formation, but we played with one striker up front a lot of the time away from home last year as well. I think I only started three league games away from home last season and I scored in two of them. That was the way it was last year, and I don’t expect too much to change this season. But that’s fine, the chances will come.
“If you’re going to places like Old Trafford, the Emirates and Stamford Bridge, you can’t just go all out to attack.
“I think we all understand that.” That system relies on keeping the gates shut at the back too and on that front, there was plenty of food for thought as a decent but unspectacular Rangers inflicted a second defeat of pre-season on Hughton’s men. That, in itself, is not really a cause for concern. Rangers bested Blackburn in their recent tour of Australia and while they are nowhere near their mid-nineties peak, Walter Smith has shaped a handy first XI from meagre resources.
As the t-shirts being sold outside the ground proudly proclaimed in relation to back-to-back titles without any investment: ‘Nae dough, two in a row’.
But still, United had their number for 24 minutes before the SPL champions launched their first attack of the game – an opportunity that generated the opening goal thanks to some slack defending.
A similar lapse in concentration from Fabricio Coloccini in seven days’ time will be punished just as severely, and then where will Hughton’s best laid plans be left?