CHRIS Hughton has shrugged off the abuse he received from Newcastle’s fans after his decision to substitute Obafemi Martins as United crashed 1-0 at Bolton yesterday.
Martins left the field with United’s away fans chanting ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ at caretaker manager Hughton and first-team coach Colin Calderwood, even though the Nigerian had been utterly ineffective in the second half. Hughton, though, is quickly having to adjust to the pressure of frontline management in the absence of manager Joe Kinnear and he was unapologetic for making the substitution. “What everyone must realise is that Oba has been out of action for quite some time,” he said afterwards. “We were able to bring him on in the last game and he gave us a good 35 minutes.
“It was right and fitting he start, but he’s been out and perhaps just lacked that little bit of sharpness, that’s why we took him off and brought Mark Viduka on.”
However, the frustration in the away section had just as much to do with the team’s collective lethargy as the replacement of one of their favourite players, and this was a worrying performance given that Middlesbrough and Blackburn won.
Newcastle are just two points above the bottom three and host Manchester United on Wednesday before another relegation showdown at Hull City on March 14.
The breathing space their victory at West Brom brought them last month has evaporated and relegation is once again a very real fear at St James’s Park. Hughton said: “We’re in a relegation scrap with 10 to 12 other teams. A series of wins or non losses can creep you away from that. We’re under no illusions of where we are at the moment.
“I don’t see this as a catastrophic weekend for us. From now to the end of the season there’ll be weekends that go for us and weekends that go against us. We’re on the back of three games that we haven’t lost. We’ve lost today, which is a bitter blow, but all we can do is look forward to the next game.
“What can smack you in the face is if you look at the games you have to win. At the moment all our thoughts are on the home game against Man U.”
Newcastle probably did about enough to leave the Reebok Stadium with a point, but this was still a poor performance for prolonged periods as Ricardo Gardner’s goal early in the second half was enough to separate the sides. Hughton added: “I thought it was a spirited performance. We had the better opportunities, but there was that moment when we switched off and we were made to pay. We perhaps lacked that little bit of guile and composure we needed to break them down.
“We conceded at a very bad time and the goal gave them a lift. We were able to get back into the game. They were aware that we had to force the issue and at times we did – we at times took chances. When you’re protecting a lead you do tend to get bodies back and I think they did that and defensively coped well.”
To make matters worse for the Magpies, two of their most experienced players will miss the Man United game. Damien Duff did not figure against Bolton because of a calf injury and Nicky Butt fears he has damaged his medial knee ligaments, and could be out of action for up to six weeks.