JOE KINNEAR last night ended a day to forget wondering who will make up Newcastle United’s central midfield in their next game.
Alan Smith suffered a setback in his return to fitness, two Newcastle players fought in full view of another club’s players and Kinnear received his third Football Association misconduct charge of the season.
However, Newcastle last night played down the bust-up between Andy Carroll and Charles N’Zogbia as merely the kind of incident seen on training pitches up and down the country. It was witnessed by Carlisle United’s players as they warmed up for yesterday’s behind-closed-doors friendly, and followed a heavy tackle during a training session.
But perhaps more worrying was the sight of Danny Guthrie limping away from the training ground on crutches. The extent of the damage to Guthrie’s hamstring is not known, but it already looks probable he will miss the Magpies’ next match, against a Manchester City side likely to hand former Newcastle striker Craig Bellamy and quite possibly a few others their debut.
With Nicky Butt suspended, Kinnear faces travelling to Eastlands without both the men who have formed the core of his side recently. As one of three first-teamers who played in the 1-1 friendly draw against Carlisle after recent injuries, Joey Barton is set to face former club Man City and could be partnered by Geremi, who as recently as the weekend looked set to join Turkish side Besiktas.
Smith was due to play alongside goalscorer Steven Taylor, Barton and Geremi in the match, but withdrew shortly before kick-off because of concerns he was not ready for a first match since pre-season.
The 28-year-old featured in Newcastle’s early preparations for the new campaign,
only to injure his Achilles as United were considering an offer from Everton. The Toffees are the last team the former Manchester United and Leeds United player has figured competitively against, in the final match of last season.
Smith, reserve goalkeeper Steve Harper and loan signing Igancio Gonzalez are the only senior United players yet to feature under Kinnear. Gonzalez, on loan from Valencia, has been injured, while Shay Given’s outstanding form has kept Harper on the sidelines.
No fans could get near a match played amid tight security but had they, they would have had to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of European football to recognise some of those in black-and-white.
Of the six trialists, only former Rangers and Denmark international Peter Lovenkrands was over the age of 21. There was no sign of the potential loan signings Kinnear talked of last week – an Italian and an Argentinian international.
MTK Budapest’s 18-year-old midfielder Andras Gosztonyi, 19-year-olds Per Egil and Even Hovland of Norwegian club Sogndal, and 20-year-old Jukka Raitala from HJK Helsinki are rumoured to have played, along with an unnamed Swedish Under-21 international midfielder.
Free agent Lovenkrands is expected to sign until the end of the season after proving his fitness in the match, which striker Xisco also featured in.
But Kinnear can expect a hefty spell on the sidelines after being charged with improper conduct after an altercation of his own, with Hull City manager Phil Brown last week.
Both managers were yesterday given until February 3 to respond to the charges and while Brown appeared to be the provocateur, the indications are that Kinnear can expect a lengthy punishment.
Before the case is dealt with, his two outstanding FA charges – one of which he denies, one he does not – will be heard. And although the initial indications from Soho Square were that Kinnear might escape punishment, there appears to be a change of heart.
The Football Association, however, have grown tired of Kinnear’s antics – which have also included slaps on the wrist for a foul-mouthed tirade at journalists, and for trying to get onto the Goodison Park touchline when banned from it.