SO far, so good for Joe Kinnear. Newcastle United have their fighting spirit back and the manager has won his first battle for credibility. Mark Douglas reports.
JOE Kinnear’s faulty mobile phone wasn’t the only thing that took a battering at Goodison Park.
So, too, did the notion that Kinnear is unfit to lead a modern-day Premier League club by virtue of belonging to that set of football managers who resolutely call themselves “old school”.
While Newcastle United may have to foot the bill for a new handset to replace the one Kinnear broke in the directors’ box at Everton, it is a small price to pay for the return of leadership and direction to a club that was drifting into the Championship with barely a whimper.
It is far too early to pass a meaningful judgement on his reign, but few could argue Kinnear has brought authority and a dash of colour to the club and that is precisely what was required to fill the power vacuum left by Kevin Keegan’s departure.
It might only be a return of one point so far, but already Kinnear has achieved something even Keegan couldn’t manage – diverting attention away from talk of Cockney Mafias, Dennis Wise and Mike Ashley’s interminable attempts to sell the club.
It might only be a temporary suspension of hostility between United’s support and their embattled owner, but it is to Kinnear’s credit that, by virtue of being ready to fight the club’s corner, he has somehow united a fractured club.
That unity was in evidence on Merseyside. United’s sizeable support, themselves unfairly criticised in the wake of Keegan’s departure, was unbowed when the club went two down early in the game and the players responded in kind with a terrific battling display.
Much bigger tests are over the horizon, but twice now since Kinnear has become involved with the club there has been a visible improvement after one of his half-time team talks.
Clearly there is something about Kinnear’s thoughts, and the way that he is delivering them, that is getting through to a group of players who mostly hadn’t begun their careers when their new manager was at the peak of his powers.
The thoughts of Danny Guthrie are interesting, and a clear indication that Kinnear’s management technique retains relevance for modern-day players.
“Sometimes you just need an experienced manager to lead from the front and bring everything else together,” he said.
“It wasn’t an ideal situation before, but this feels much better. It’s been good for a manager to come in and steady the ship and the whole thing just feels a lot more solid now.”
Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised by Kinnear’s immediate impact. He may not be the most subtle manager operating in the Premier League, but he has experience by the bucket load and previous when it comes to fighting his way out of a corner.
His combative nature is part of the package and while he might have offended a few sensibilities with his now infamous Press conference rant, it has done him little damage in the long-run.
Kinnear refuted suggestions he was “paranoid” during his post-match Press conference at Goodison Park, and the very fact that he rolled back his decision not to talk to national journalists is evidence his anger is fleeting.
Kinnear will continue to plough his own furrow, however, and the opinions of United’s interim manager deserve to be treated with a touch more respect than his praise for Newcastle’s admittedly contentious midfielder Joey Barton.
Kinnear heaped generous praise on Barton during his infamous introduction to the North East Press corps, suggesting his return would be a cause for celebration.
That might stick in the throat given Barton’s disciplinary problems, it is a perfect valid opinion given that the former England midfielder is one of the Newcastle’s few fit players of genuine Premier League pedigree.
Shola Ameobi is another in Newcastle’s squad who Kinnear believes he can coax an improvement from, comparing the United striker to his Wimbledon talisman John Fashanu.
He will hold double training sessions with Ameobi during the international break in an attempt to bring out the best in a player whose inconsistencies have long been a source of frustration for Newcastle managers.
It is an interesting move, and if Kinnear unlocks the player’s potential he will have done something that several United managers have singularly failed to do.
“I know I will be caned for even suggesting this, but I can see a lot of John Fashanu in Shola Ameobi,” Kinnear said.
“During these next couple of weeks I intend to work one-on-one with him in the afternoons to try to bring the best out of him and maybe show him how Fash used to play.
“I am going to start afternoon training with several of the younger lads. Ameobi has a lot to offer, he is not the finished article, but he is willing to work.
“I am going to work to get the best out of him. He could be a John Fashanu, and I am prepared for what people will be saying about that suggestion!”