ALAN Smith has praised Newcastle United manager Chris Hughton for being brave enough to field his “other” first team at Chelsea.
The Magpies made ten changes for Wednesday’s League Cup third round tie at Stamford Bridge, yet still became the first team to win there since Inter Milan in March.
As one of the beneficiaries of a policy which also saw Hughton change all 11 players at Accrington Stanley in the Carling Cup’s second round, it was no surprise to hear captain-for-the-night Smith’s endorsement.
But with Sunderland’s Steve Bruce lamenting not “freshening up” his team enough when they exited the competition 24 hours earlier, the midfielder feels the Magpies have ample resources to do just that.
“There’s a lot of lads in this squad desperate to take whatever chance they get,” he said. “It’s almost like we’ve got separate first teams, and you’d hope that’s the attitude everybody adopts.
“It would have been easy to have seen Chelsea in the draw and hardly made any changes at all to the team that won at Everton. But the gaffer knows the depth of ability and he wasn’t worried about giving some of the other lads a chance.
“He showed his faith in a lot of the younger lads, and that faith paid off. There were experienced players as well though.
“And when you’ve got someone like Sol (Campbell, who made his Newcastle debut) waiting in the wings you know you’ve got a half-decent squad.
“We’ve got a good unit and a good set of the lads, and all the lads that didn’t play at Chelsea were willing us on.”
Chelsea also made widespread changes – nine from the team which beat Blackpool – but theirs is the Premier League’s most shallow squad in terms of experience. When new league rules restricted clubs to 25 players aged over 21, Chelsea could only name 19 – the equal lowest with Wigan Athletic.
Newcastle made their greater maturity show in a 4-3 win. The decisive goal came from Shola Ameobi in the 90th minute – his second of the game, third in this season’s competition.
Victory was well deserved, but Smith is anxious the players should not get carried away.
“We could have had a couple more goals to be honest,” said the player who lost his Premier League place to debutant Cheik Tioté at Everton four days earlier.
“We had a couple more great chances in the second half which, on another night, might well have gone in. It would have been Shola’s hat-trick if his other shot had gone in, and he probably deserved that on the night.
“We came with no fear, just as we have done wherever we’ve travelled this season. The lads did really well at Everton, and the rest of us just wanted to make sure we carried that on. There wasn’t a lot of pressure on us and we played with a lot of freedom.
“Even if we hadn’t have got the win, I still think the performance would have been a massive positive. The lads worked so hard, and it’s up to the whole of the squad now to make sure we get a result against a difficult Stoke side on Sunday.
“The worst thing we could do is get carried away just because we’ve beaten Chelsea. In that respect, having Stoke next up is maybe a good thing because we know just how tough a test we’re going to get.
“When you play well, you have to make the most of it, and thankfully we were able to do that at Chelsea and Everton.
“But those games are done now. The most important thing now is Sunday against Stoke. Confidence is high, and hopefully we can kick on and get another three points in the Premier League, which is our main aim.”