JOEY Barton believes it is vital Newcastle United’s suffering supporters continue to back the players this season despite the continued hostility towards owner Mike Ashley.
United fans are still furious at Ashley and the remaining members of his controversial management team, managing director Derek Llambias and executive director (football) Dennis Wise, but the players have been delighted with the encouragement they have been given on the pitch.
Although St James’s Park has had its fair share of poisonous atmospheres this season following the row between the board and former manager Kevin Keegan last month, most fans have since decided not to protest against Ashley’s regime on a matchday in order to avoid any distraction for the players.
And it has been appreciated in the dressing room with Barton arguing the bond between the supporters and the team will be vital in their bid to pull clear of relegation trouble.
Barton criticised United’s home support during his first season on Tyneside for the speed with which they turned on the players, but he has been impressed by the way they have stuck by them when they have needed them most.
He said: “We have to make this place a fortress. When the crowd come in their thousands, like they do every week, they become very vocal and this is an intimidating place to play. I’ve played here with Manchester City and this is not a nice place to come when you’ve got 52,000 Geordies roaring their team on. If they can guarantee us that, we can guarantee we’ll put that extra effort in.”
There have been times in the last few years when Newcastle supporters have been more of a hindrance than a help as their frustration at the lack of quality football under former managers Glenn Roeder and Sam Allardyce occasionally got the better of them.
But they have been at their best during the recent troubles, spurring their team on to victory against West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday night, despite the derby defeat to Sunderland last weekend. They also played a massive part in Newcastle’s 2-2 draw with Man City the week before when Habib Beye’s early dismissal had reduced the Magpies to ten men.
And Barton, who is desperate for redemption on Tyneside following his double conviction for assault over the summer, hopes Newcastle’s second win of the season against WBA will be swiftly followed by a third when Aston Villa travel to the North East on Monday night.
He said: “As a team we want to achieve something and the West Brom win is the first step. But there is a lot of hard work still to be done and there will no doubt be ups and downs.
“Hopefully we can get some decent results and bring a bit of stability to the club and climb the table. It only takes two or three wins and you find yourself comfortably in the top half.”
Barton’s tribute to the fans was echoed by the club’s interim manager Joe Kinnear. The former Wimbledon boss knew about St James’s Park’s reputation as one of the most daunting places in the Premier League for an away team to visit, but only now does he fully appreciate how important the fans can be to the Magpies on the pitch.
“I’m absolutely knocked out by the support we have got,” said Kinnear, in an interview with the club’s official website. “I don’t think you can beat Newcastle, I don’t think there is any comparison.
“They play their part and they are just a fantastic crowd, they really are. It’s something that I’d never witnessed before. They carried us through against Manchester City and again they were fantastic (against West Brom).”
Meanwhile, Shola Ameobi has thanked Kinnear for rescuing his Newcastle career after the striker feared his time on Tyneside was coming to a disappointing conclusion.
Ameobi was on the verge of signing for Ipswich Town in the summer before he failed a medical. He was also courted by a host of other Championship clubs, but was forced to stay at Newcastle when none were able to match the club’s asking price.
The former England Under-21 international spent the start of the season well down the pecking order, but has had a new lease of life under Kinnear, scoring two goals in his last three games after he was compared to the former Wimbledon stalwart John Fashanu.
He said: “Joe’s come in and put self-belief back into my game and really put my career back on track. And I have to say it’s great for me to be back out there working hard and playing well. I admire what Joe’s done, not just for me, but for the whole squad.”