PETER Løvenkrands has been Newcastle United’s forgotten man this summer.
Overshadowed by Andy Carroll’s elevation to the feted number nine shirt, Shola Ameobi’s enduring effectiveness, Leon Best’s sudden goal rush and even Xisco’s unlikeliest of comebacks, United’s Great Dane has been forced to operate in the shadows during the pre-season phoney war. It is a curious role for a striker whose influence during the promotion campaign was profound.
Contending with personal tragedy and a lack of pre-season preparation he still managed to grab 16 goals during United’s Championship season – testament to a keen football brain that should be a major asset among tougher opposition this term.
Handed the briefest of opportunities on Saturday, he gave Chris Hughton a hefty reminder of his ability ahead of the serious business next week.
With an opportunist goal and a lively cameo to his credit, he may yet have persuaded the United boss there is another way at Old Trafford.
Aware that Hughton will be relying more heavily on a 4-5-1 formation this season Løvenkrands remains realistic about the rolling back of ambition, and the knock-on effect it will have on him.
Hughton’s first instinct away from home – and even, as he admitted to The Journal on Saturday, occasionally against the big guns at home – will be to replicate the starting XI he sent out at Ibrox, with Carroll leading the line and Kevin Nolan tucked in behind him. It leaves Løvenkrands, for all his canny work in and around the box, relegated to the role of impact substitute unless he can turn in many more performances like this.
“I’m going to be positive and hope I can play in as many games as possible,” he said afterwards.
“Even if I’m not starting in some away games, I can still have an impact. I came on and got a goal with my first touch, and sometimes it’s as important to have an impact like that as it is to start a game. If you’re playing against one of the top teams in the Premier League, the early part of the game is often about keeping it tight and frustrating them. Then maybe you can hit them on the break.
“There’s been a lot of talk about the formation, but we played with one striker up front a lot of the time away from home last year as well. I think I only started three league games away from home last season and I scored in two of them. That was the way it was last year, and I don’t expect too much to change this season. But that’s fine, the chances will come.
“If you’re going to places like Old Trafford, the Emirates and Stamford Bridge, you can’t just go all out to attack.
“I think we all understand that.” That system relies on keeping the gates shut at the back too and on that front, there was plenty of food for thought as a decent but unspectacular Rangers inflicted a second defeat of pre-season on Hughton’s men. That, in itself, is not really a cause for concern. Rangers bested Blackburn in their recent tour of Australia and while they are nowhere near their mid-nineties peak, Walter Smith has shaped a handy first XI from meagre resources.
As the t-shirts being sold outside the ground proudly proclaimed in relation to back-to-back titles without any investment: ‘Nae dough, two in a row’.
But still, United had their number for 24 minutes before the SPL champions launched their first attack of the game – an opportunity that generated the opening goal thanks to some slack defending.
A similar lapse in concentration from Fabricio Coloccini in seven days’ time will be punished just as severely, and then where will Hughton’s best laid plans be left?
Barring the introduction of Hatem Ben Arfa, with Newcastle hopeful of completing a deal to bring in the Marseille midfielder this week, this was Hughton’s best XI on show at Ibrox. And they began with a dash of invention and energy, forcing Smith’s side onto the back foot.
A midfield mix of Joey Barton and Danny Guthrie provided enthusiasm and creative energy while Wayne Routledge was seeing plenty of the ball in dangerous areas – only for his final ball to let him down.
At the other end, Steven Whittaker showed him how to do it with the first meaningful blue foray. Curling a delicious ball into the box, Coloccini allowed Kenny Miller to steal a march on him and before he was able to recover the ground the Scotland striker had glanced it beyond Steve Harper.
Newcastle’s immediate response was spirited, Carroll and Routledge seeing efforts blocked by last ditch Gers’ defending. But they could not find a way through, ensuring they completed a five-game friendly programme without scoring a first half goal.
In the second period momentum swung in Rangers’ favour. Madjid Bougherra, involved in a running battle with second half sub Ameobi after a gratuitous shove on the Newcastle striker when the ball had run out of play, flashed a header wide while Kirk Broadfoot brought out the best in Steve Harper.
A second arrived on 66 minutes, again worrying from a United perspective. Steven Davis found space in midfield and bisected the Newcastle defence with too much ease to set up Steven Naismith to slide the ball under Harper.
Hughton reached for plan B, switching to a 4-4-2 system and calling Løvenkrands from the bench to raucous cheers from a home crowd that recall him fondly from a six-year spell that brought over 100 appearances and 37 goals.
His impact was immediate, even if Newcastle’s goal owed much to neat play by Nolan, who saw a low drive parried by Scotland goalkeeper Allan McGregor to provide Løvenkrands with the simplest of touches.
He opted not to celebrate out of reverence to his former fans but that didn’t stop him nearly notching a second in the late stages – jumping on a close-range opportunity that fell to the Dane. It was just about the only thing he did wrong in his 21-minute spell.
RANGERS (4-5-1): McGregor; Broadfoot, Weir, Bougherra, Papac (Wylde 63); Naismith (Velicka 81), Davis (Hutton 81), Edu, McCulloch (Shinnie 71), Whittaker; Miller (Lafferty 63). Subs (not used): McMillan, Alexander, Little, Campbell.
Goals: Miller (24), Naismith (65);
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-1-1): Harper; Perch (Tavernier 81), Williamson, Coloccini (Ferguson 81), Enrique (R.Taylor 56); Routledge (Xisco 82), Guthrie, Barton, Gutierrez (Løvenkrands 69); Nolan; Carroll (Ameobi 46). Sub (not used): Krul.
Goal: Løvenkrands (70).