NEWCASTLE United fans have been warned not to lose a sense of perspective in the euphoria of their 51st Tyne-Wear derby success.
The comfortable 2-0 home win over Sunderland was the Magpies’ fourth victory in a six-match unbeaten run. Having never previously been on the winning side against the Black Cats in a 15-year Newcastle career, goalkeeper Steve Harper had more cause than most to celebrate, but warned the St James’s Park win should not disguise another season of under-achievement.
The 32-year-old also reminded his team-mates it was hard work which lifted them out of the Premier League relegation battle.
“People will be very happy we’ve beaten Sunderland and rightly so, but it’s important no one forgets we’ve had a very difficult season,” warned one of the few boyhood Newcastle fans in Sunday’s home team. “We had a good start, then a very long, hard run. The black clouds were circling, and it’s tough to get through that.
“The great thing is we’re all dreaming again and talking about winning a trophy instead of talking about the ‘r’ word (relegation). We started well and had far too much of a dip, but it’s turned. We were looking at the fixtures and people were wondering where a win was going to come from, but we said with nine games to go we were in a mini-league and had to try to win that.
“We’re well on the way. The only way you come through it is by hard work. “The intensity and tempo of training has paid off. The lads are working hard, but with smiles on their faces.”
The mood in the Newcastle camp is very different to the period either side of Sam Allardyce’s dismissal when United did not win a league game between early December and mid-March.
The last 10 were under Keegan’s management but, although progress was frustratingly slow, Harper believes the rewards were worth it. “When Kevin came back it took us a while to sort ourselves out but the last six games have been really good,” he said. “You’ve got to give him and the staff the credit for changing the formation, because we’ve looked really solid and also a goal threat.
“We go to West Ham next week and you read that their fans aren’t too happy. We know from previous experience how tough that can be at home, and we go there looking for a quick start and full of confidence.”
Newcastle’s triumphant players were joined in the dressing room after Sunday’s match by chairman Chris Mort and eccentric owner Mike Ashley.
“He (Ashley) just said, ‘fantastic lads’, and shook everyone’s hands,” the former Seaham Red Star goalkeeper revealed. “He was happy. Him and the chairman came in and it was good to see his smiling face. Just as he left, it came on the television showing him dancing in the directors’ box – if it had been on while he was in there, he might have got some stick!”
Uriah Rennie has been named as the referee for Saturday’s trip to West Ham. The South Yorkshire official, notorious as the only man to send off Alan Shearer, has only taken charge of one Newcastle game this season. He managed to make his presence felt, dismissing Emre in January’s 4-1 home FA Cup win over Stoke City.
Meanwhile, Fernando Amorebieta has distanced himself from a move to Tyneside. United are reported to head a queue of clubs, including Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea, interested in signing the £16m-rated Athletic Bilbao centre-back this summer.
But Amorebieta has told the Basque Press he has no immediate intention of breaking a contract which runs until 2011.
“It (the speculation) is positive but it is not really in my plans to leave Bilbao,” he said. “My future is here and I want to progress as a player. I have heard rumours since last summer but nobody has formally contacted my club.”