They were all smiles about it afterwards but, as Mark Smith reports, the derby-day battle between Alan Pardew and Martin O’Neill was every bit as feisty as the on-field action
Pardew, notebook and pen in right hand, bore no hint of a protest at Mike Williamson’s tug, although the same could not be said as the tackles flew in. Mason, performing the most thankless role in football, took the brunt as the fourth official, and he had it in stereo as John Carver backed up his gaffer in equal measure. It may have seemed, to amateur lip-readers at least, an unusual place to order four coffees, but O’Neill was in no mood to rise to the bait.
Those after a hint of niggle from the off-field contingent had to make do with Fraizer Campbell running the length of the west touchline in celebration at his side’s goal, facing the crowd and waving his arms in a celebration which inevitably sprung the natives out of their seats.
Having had the arrival of his first-born and a maiden England cap in the same week, however, one could be forgiven for feeling the joys of spring even on a freezing March lunchtime. It was all fabulous grist to the mill for those with eyes on the dug-outs instead of the pitch, and for all the hint of playground rivalry the sense of contrition from both clubs afterwards never hinted at any lasting malice between the respective staffs.
“I think I shall climb on the bus,” said O’Neill, when asked if he would be sharing a bottle with Pardew post-match. But the broad grin on his face said more than his words for a man who has seen it and done it all before in a managerial career including a fraught Uefa Cup final against Jose Mourinho’s Porto. The Newcastle boss, too, was similarly contrite – happy to let bygones be bygones.
“Listen, this is a passionate game,” he said in his post-match Press conference, no hint of a Dereck Chisora moment.
“Maybe my bench and their bench could have handled their frustrations a little better and we could have been a bit more grown up about it, but this is a game that gets to you. If one or two of us stepped over the line then I apologise, but it happens. It happened in our playing careers as well, but you shake hands after the game and it is all forgotten – or at least it will be in my case.”
Reminded of his fist-pump and the ensuing scrum at the award of his side’s penalty, he admitted: “I can see that it looks terrible, but it was just sheer relief that we had got a penalty. We had not even scored at that point, and I have never done that before. It just goes to show the pressure of the game and how it can get to even the oldest of managers. I feel like 58 today!”
Even a reminder of Lee Cattermole’s first-minute booking could not provoke Pardew into picking up a tripod and launching into his managerial mate, David Haye style.
“I am not taking a moral high ground or any other ground, other than to say that it was a little unsavoury,” he said. “But it is a passionate game and Martin loves his team, just as I love mine. Let’s not all get carried away. It was a great game of football, and what happens on the bench sometimes gets out of hand.
“Silly things get said. It happens all the time, but you just get on with it.”
So, honours even on and off the field. Ding-ding. Bring on the rematch.