IN his days as manager of West Ham United, Alan Pardew was probably football’s most ostentatious Mr Motivator.
Faced with a conundrum like Leon Best, the younger Pardew would probably have thrown on a T-shirt with a corny slogan like “Simply the Best” to try and inspire him out of his goal famine.
Nowadays his methods area little less showy, but more effective. Just as well, because not many Gallowgate regulars regard this winter as T-shirt weather.
Whatever Pardew has been doing behind closed doors at Darsley Park, it worked spectacularly last night. Best was cheered to the rafters as he left the field with 26 minutes left, his work done. You would have got extremely long odds on that even a couple of hours earlier.
Even then, Best was a textbook transfer flop, a misjudgment, a mistake and at times even an embarrassment. Not any more.
Best not only scored his first Newcastle United goal, but his maiden senior hat-trick to boot, as Pardew recorded his first win over the Hammers since they sacked him in 2006. Chris Hughton signed the striker from Coventry City last January, but only last night started to repay his £1.5m transfer fee with a confidence no forward so short of goals has any right to show.
Best took 12 days getting off the mark in 2010, then another 353 days trying unsuccessfully to add to it. Most of those came as a Newcastle player, making Best’s surname sound like a cruel joke to Gallowgate ears. Written off long before Hughton was handed his P45, his signing on the list of indictments against the former manager.
Best’s late introduction at the DW Stadium smacked of putting him in the shop window. When he missed a good late chance, it was not looking the wisest of moves. But perhaps Pardew’s motives were more genuine – and wise – than he was given credit for.
Surprisingly handed his chance by Shola Ameobi’s ankle injury, life as a fully-fledged top-flight player had not started well. Four minutes in he chested down a long ball but before he could shoot, James Tomkins jumped in to rob him. It would be the exception to the rule for both men’s nights.
Although Scott Parker’s swerving shot forced the only real save of the first half, Newcastle enjoyed a comfortable start to the game and it was only a matter of time before Best would get another chance.
When José Enrique squeezed between Tal Ben Haim and Freddie Sears, his cross was within reach of Rob Green, who tipped over.
But minutes later Løvenkrands picked out his strike partner. Best was bested as he competed for Joey Barton’s long ball and when the Dane played the ball back, he seemed to have lofted it too high. It gave Best plenty of time to think – not always a good thing for an out-of-form striker – and to steady himself, and he picked his spot to volley into the net. Twenty minutes later he had another chance, and another goal. Barton cleverly threaded a free-kick down the side of West Ham’s back four for Løvenkrands to centre.
He picked out Tomkins at the back post but the centre-back kindly helped it into the path of Best, who finished first time. With defending like that, Avram Grant must have been ruing the fact he had forgotten to bring what he this week described as his “lucky scarf”.
It is the limpness of some of the Hammers’ displays this season – Parker apart – that had them marked down as pre-Christmas relegation favourites. They looked to have got some backbone for Christmas, but seem to have worn it out already.
Newcastle’s third goal was a gift, Løvenkrands able to stroke home when Tomkins played a Jonâs Gutiérrez cross straight to him. It put Newcastle’s back-up strikers neck and neck on two league goals each for the season.
When Newcastle win at home nowadays, they tend to win big, so the half-time interval was never likely to sate their appetite.
On the hour Barton played the ball to Kevin Nolan and from his touch back, Best calmly controlled and found the net.
Løvenkrands kept going too, poking in Barton’s cross from the kind of near-post run that seemed to have gone out of fashion.
He tried hard for his own hat-trick, but Green dropped on an acute touch from Enrique’s cross, and when the Dane cut in from the right late on, his shot was at the goalkeeper. No miss, though, could rival Nile Ranger’s. Unable to rearrange his feet when Nolan picked him out yards from goal, he was suitably embarrassed at his effort. He was no substitute for Best on the night, and in the space of an hour, the youngster has slid down Newcastle’s pecking order.
Shane Ferguson also entered the fray and showed some encouraging feistiness in a tangle with former Sunderland defender Tal Ben Haim.
West Ham lost their rag, Zavon Hines, Victor Obinna and Ben Haim all booked within three minutes.
Harper saved well from Carlton Cole’s acrobatics at as corner, and with his feet in a one-on-one with the same player. Hines shot over from an overhead kick at a half-cleared corner, and fellow sub Valon Behrami was unable to net from a very tight angle.
By then, though, the Best had very definitely been and gone.