WHEN asked by a reporter recently if he might be starting to attract interest from elsewhere, Alan Pardew asked if he was joking.
On the day it was suggested he had crept on to the shortlist to replace Fabio Capello as England manager, Pardew underlined why his talents are starting to be taken seriously.
As the warm-up act for two of the most attractive teams in the country, Newcastle United's televised 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers was not pretty, but it was pretty effective. In the game between the black-and-whites and chequered-shirted opponents, Pardew won his personal game of chess with Mark Hughes.
Leon Best's goal separated the sides but the Magpies' man of the match stood in a coat on the touchline all afternoon.
The hosts started extremely sloppily, passes going astray and basic control occasionally beyond them. Danny Guthrie looked like a man making his first appearance since December 3.
Most of the mistakes came in the area of the pitch frost-bound during the warm-up, but it quickly thawed and offered no excuse. Guthrie and his team-mates would also warm to the task.
An injury to Newcastle's main creative force prompted the turnaround. Shaun Derry's 20th-minute tackle on Yohan Cabaye was not unlike a number hotly debated last week.
His trailing leg was pretty incidental but his left lunged forcefully and late. Cabaye angrily shoved the grey-haired midfielder, but as soon as the adrenaline wore off he sat on the turf, his game over. Derry was booked.In the lengthy period before Cabaye disappeared down the tunnel, Pardew hatched his plan, relaying it to Guthrie and Jonas Gutierrez.
Hatem Ben Arfa came on in the right-wing position he excelled in against Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup. Central midfield was rearranged into an unusual triangle. Gutierrez came off the flank to be at its apex, Ryan Taylor in from the right to hold alongside Guthrie. Best tried to job-share between centre-forward and the otherwise vacant left wing. He was his own worst enemy, his assured 37th-minute goal ensuring the dirty work more or less became his full-time role before making way for others better suited to it.
The midfield pieces constantly shifted in the second half, Gutierrez moving to Taylor's right to free up Ben Arfa, then the left when Best was substituted. At times it was like watching a manager plug the gaps after a sending off, but despite the occasional rashness of a QPR team missing the suspended Joey Barton, it was always 11 v 11.
From the moment Heidar Helguson hit a shot straight at Tim Krul after 16 seconds, the visitors had made the running. The offside flag came to Newcastle's rescue when Fabricio Coloccini and Davide Santon failed to deal with Luke Young's cross, and Krul needed Coloccini's help when he beat away Akos Buzsaky's strike.
Cabaye's loose pass across the backline ultimately resulted in a Shaun Wright-Phillips shot which clipped the back of the bar, and Jay Bothroyd shot straight at the goalkeeper when Taylor surrendered possession. Three minutes after Cabaye's withdrawal, Newcastle finally had a decent attempt, Gutierrez heading Taylor's free-kick over. The fouls were starting to mount and three Rangers went into the book during the first half, all for fouls. Add the aggression of Hughes to a Neil Warnock side and this is what you get if you are not careful, Barton or no Barton.
Taylor's 25-yarder took a touch as it went wide, but Ben Arfa's off-balance attempt was nothing like as close.When Gutierrez dinked the ball onto Shola Ameobi's chest Taylor played it to Best, who nutmugged Young and calmly scored a much-needed goal, his first since September.
QPR were again quickest out the traps after the restart. Wright-Phillips shot at Krul, Bothroyd volleyed over, and Krul saved well at the near post from the centre-forward.
Newcastle soon re-asserted control. Santon showed good footwork as he cut inside in the penalty area, but former Middlesbrough full-back Young followed him and closed down the shot.
Legitimate Newcastle penalty claims were waved away just after the hour when Danny Simpson headed Gutierrez's cross back across, rather than at, goal. Buzsaky controlled with his hand, perhaps spared because it was by his side.
Danny Gabbidon headed Gutierrez's goal-bound shot clear when Paddy Kenny was dragged out to the touchline ensuring Guthrie's powerful deflected shot went for a throw-in, not a corner.
Newcastle's iron grip was not easy on the eye, but there is more to football than just that. It is why Arsenal and Swansea are not in a two-way fight for the title, and why Newcastle moved above Liverpool and level on points with the Gunners.