IT is all very well talking about how you have the ability to ensure Newcastle United score the goals that fire them to Premier League safety, but Leon Best and Peter Lovenkrands backed up their words with deeds against Birmingham City.
Although United had not lost at Blackburn Rovers last weekend, the team’s apparent lack of a goal threat in a game they dominated had led to fresh questions about the suitability of their two strikers to find the back of the net at the highest level.
In truth, it was harsh criticism given the lack of service and the lack of quality in Newcastle’s final ball, but all those wrongs were put right last night and Best and Lovenkrands have every reason to be smug at the manner in which they silenced their detractors.
And so will Jonas Gutierrez. So often criticised for his failure to apply a final ball to his incisive running, the Argentinian laid both goals on a plate with accurate crosses which were gratefully converted by the front men.
This was a vital win. United have been difficult to beat, a resilience that should protect them against relegation, but while a record of just one defeat in their last seven league games was encouraging, it only told half a story.
The Magpies had not won since the 5-0 thrashing of West Ham on January 5 before this success and have, effectively, been treading water in mid-table with four draws out of their last five games, allowing the teams in the bottom three to close the gap between them and the drop zone.
The trip to St Andrews last night has been Newcastle’s comfort blanket, their game in hand after the original fixture fell victim to the Big Freeze before Christmas, and the Magpies have made the most of it, extending their lead over the bottom three to a healthy eight points. In contrast, Birmingham City have been on the charge, hauling themselves clear of trouble since the start of the year, investing wisely in the January transfer window to bring in the likes of David Bentley on loan from Tottenham Hostpur, as well as former United striker Obafemi Martins and a win last night would have put them above Newcastle in table. Instead, it is they who will look nervously at the battle below them.
United had been slow to emerge from the tunnel for the pre-match handshakes, but started the game in sharp fashion, Kevin Nolan almost scoring from one cross from Jose Enrique during Newcastle’s first forage forward.
They scored with their second. Birmingham failed to clear the danger properly and when Jonas Gutierrez sent another dipping ball to the near post, Peter Lovenkrands had timed his run superbly and stabbed the ball inside the near post.
It was the ideal start and it needed to be. Birmingham’s good run, which has also seen them book a place in the final of the Carling Cup, had sent confidence levels soaring in the blue half of the second city and it showed. They were quickly taking the game to their visitors with Martins showing more energy in the first 45 minutes here than he did in virtually all of Newcastle’s previous season in the top flight.