There is at least one Newcastle United centre-forward whose pre-season has gone almost perfectly, and manager Alan Pardew is thankful for this small mercy.
Shola Ameobi scored his third goal in as many games yesterday, with this one against Blackpool the pick of the bunch, and looks in better nick than he’s been in some time.
If the popular Ameobi’s long Newcastle United career is entering its final chapter – he has one year left on his contract – then the striker appears determined to ensure his farewell is a happy one.
With Papiss Cisse welcomed back into the fold, although he wasn’t in Blackpool yesterday, and the Bafï¿½timbi Gomis deal hopefully nearer completion, it’s fair to say that good old Shola isn’t going to play every second of every game.
But then when has he ever? Ameobi, however, does not want to simply fade away. On the evidence so far, anything but that will happen. Good on him.
Without getting carried away on the strength of a couple of decent friendly performances, Newcastle’s No 23 is in much better shape than last season and has carried a goal threat in every game.
Pardew has been pleased with the way his warrior has attacked this pre-season campaign. He said: “Shola got a little dead leg so went off at half-time, which was a real a shame because he looked in good nick.
“That’s three goals in as many games and he came close with another header today. So I’m pleased with him.”
It was Ameobi’s goal that won yesterday’s game. It would be wrong to say that everything clicked into place for Newcastle, but some of the passing was good and a win is a win.
The 2000-strong Newcastle support, who clearly have been suffering from a lack of football, were in full voice and sang the name of just about every player and that of the manager.
And they were hardly in their seats before having something to really cheer.
A Yohan Cabaye cross into the penalty box was cleverly knocked down to Ameobi via the head of Mike Williamson, the striker controlling on his chest before sending a right-foot shot into the net.
It was a genuinely good finish from a player who didn’t lose a high ball and showed good close control and link-up play in his impressive 45 minutes.
Blackpool, under Paul Ince, are a decent team. They will be close to the promotion places in the Championship even if they don’t keep the manager’s son, Tom, who really stood out.
On 17 minutes, a cross from young Ince cross was met by Bobby Grant whose first-time effort curled just a little too late to sneak inside Rob Elliot’s post.
The Newcastle keeper then pulled out a breathtaking stop just before the half hour. A Grant cross found Craig Cathcart ten yards from goal, his powerful header was going into the top corner all the way until Elliot got his hand to the ball just in time.
Even a few of the Blackpool players applauded. Blackpool were enjoying quite a bit of possession, which would have concerned Pardew. A period of passing resulted in Ince sending a shot narrowly past on 38 minutes from outside the box.
Newcastle were denied a terrific goal of their own just before half-time.
Ameobi weighted a nice pass to Moussa Sissoko, who in turn ran on to Yoan Gouffran’s neat backheel and found the back of the net with his shot, only for the linesman’s flag to deny him.
It was a funny game. Newcastle’s midfield of Cabaye and Sissoko never got going. Sissoko, in particular, had an off day and had trouble when Ince ran at him, which was a lot. Ince is a footballer. He has calmness on the ball and plays with his head up. He’s imaginative as well.
He stole the ball off Cabaye in 52 minutes and from, just inside the Newcastle half, tried to beat Elliot with a shot that didn’t quite dip enough.
Newcastle, who have been linked with him, could do worse than at least enquire about the 21-year-old.
The second half wasn’t great. Two sprinklers going off was one of the highlights.
Of all players, it was Ince who missed a great chance to put Blackpool level. On 71 minutes, he ran on to a Daylon Claasen pass, but his shot flew across the goal, rather than going into it. It was his only wrong step of the afternoon.
The home side were determined to score, but were always off target when they got close. In the last ten minutes, Neal Bishop’s header was wide and then Nathan Eccleston shot over from inside the box.
Newcastle waited until the 89th minute to conjure a good piece of second-half football.
A lovely turn from Adam Campbell, with what was perhaps his first touch, got him away from his marker and his pass to Sylvain Marveaux was superb, as was Blackpool keeper Matt Gilks who spread his body to keep out the shot.
BLACKPOOL (4-3-3): Gilks; Broadfoot (Basham 70), MacKenzie, Cathcart (Caprice 85), Harris; Ferguson (Kante 70), Martinez (Osborne 76), Ince (Barkhuizen 81); Grant (Claasen 61), Chopra (Bishop 74), Davies (Eccleston 70). Subs (not used): Halstead, Banvo.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Elliot; Debuchy, Williamson (Yanga-Mbiwa 81), S Taylor, Santon (Dummett 60); Marveaux, Cabaye (Sammy Ameobi 73), Sissoko, Gutierrez; Gouffran (Campbell 85), Shola Ameobi (Vukic 45). Subs (not used): Alnwick.
Referee: Andre Marriner.
Attendance: 6,863 (Newcastle 2,384)