IF any of Newcastle United’s players needed to be reminded about what can happen if you fail to treat an opponent with proper care and attention they need look no further than the perils awaiting Amir Khan whenever he steps into the ring.
Khan has been in Newcastle’s position. He has been the dominant fighter in his division, he has been the bookies favourite and he has lost, dumped on his backside by a fighter looking to make a name for himself.
When the big-hitting Colombian Breidis Prescott connected with Khan’s chin last September to claim victory in just 54 seconds of the first round he shattered Khan’s illusions of greatness.
In just a few seconds, Prescott had torn a big name reputation apart, shattering Khan’s confidence and carefully constructed image of impenetrability in a result which has defined his career to date.
It may turn out to be as good as its gets for Prescott, but he will always be able to say he was the man who embarrassed the superstar Khan and there are countless Championship footballers who dream of doing the same to Newcastle this season.
For Kevin Nolan the parallels are clear. The United midfielder became a good friend of Khan’s during his time at Bolton Wanderers and he will be at the Metro Radio Newcastle Arena tonight to cheer him on in his first defence of the WBA Light-welterweight belt against unbeaten American Dimitry Salita.
Both men know what it is like to suffer the stinging pain that comes with humiliation, Khan when Prescott knocked him out, Nolan when his big move to Newcastle ended with the agony of relegation from the Premier League. And both know what it is like to bounce back and rebuild a tarnished reputation.
Nolan has done it with nine goals this season as the Magpies lead the Championship promotion race and Khan has done it with a world title, won via an unanimous points decision over Andreas Kotelnik in Manchester back in July.
“I’ve known him for a few years now and he has done fantastically well,” said Nolan, as he offered his support ahead of United’s home game against Watford. “He had his little blip against Prescott, but that’s what boxing is all about.
“He has conducted himself superbly and he is a worthy world champion. I’ll be right behind him on Saturday. He used to come down to Bolton’s training ground the whole time and he’s even been in the dressing room on a match day.
“He’s a very humble lad, a very likeable lad. He knows his roots and he keeps his family close. It’s so nice to see him achieve so much from a young age at the Olympics but not change as a person. He was 17 at the Olympics, but he has always been a lovely lad and it’s nice to know someone like that. There has been a lot of weight and expectation on his shoulders, but the way he has handled it with his family has been tremendous.
“I’m a sports fan rather than a boxing fan, but I do watch it on television and the big events. The difference is I know and like Amir.
“He isn’t like your usual boxer, arrogant and loud saying he is going to do this and that, he keeps his head down and gets on with it. He has got to where he wants to be and he can only get better and better.”
It is tempting to say the same about Newcastle. Having recovered from the shock of dropping into the second tier, they are looking an excellent bet for an immediate return to the top flight.
A strong, compact squad has been relatively lucky with injuries and the players who chose to remain on Tyneside appear to have the quality and experience to maintain their position at the top of the table before strengthening in the summer with a Premier League budget. But there is always the danger of another slip up, another lacklustre performance and, being Newcastle, there is always the worry things will take a sudden twist.
“It’s a great run we’re in at the moment, it’s fantastic,” said Nolan. “We said after the Scunthorpe game, which we lost after dominating the game, that, if we did lose games, that is how it should be.
“Thankfully, since then, we’re really gone to town and we’ve won five games on the spin.
“We’re looking really strong, unfortunately West Brom are doing the same thing behind us. We haven’t been able to pull away from them, but we are from the rest of the pack and an eight point gap is a sizeable one at this stage of the season. That was our main aim, to get into the automatic promotion places and stay there. There is a long way to go, but confidence is riding high.” He continued: “However, one of the things Chris and Colin have been really good about is making sure we don’t get complacent or carried away with anything. You can’t afford to in this league.
“We’ll start again on Saturday and then it’s Wednesday-Saturday for the rest of the month. You lose two or three of them and you’re back amongst the pack and in a bit of trouble again. You can’t afford to get carried away. Every game is going to be the same, it’s going to be a long hard fight until the end of the season.
“We’re up for the fight and I think we have proven that, but we have to keep going. It is a tough old slog.
“We’ve had a good start, but so what. We’re top of the league and we’ve proven a few people wrong, but it’s nothing. So what, there is so much work still to be done.”