IT was back to the good old days for Newcastle United yesterday.
The proliferation of moustaches might have been more reminiscent of the 1980s, but hearing the Gallowgate sing “He gets the ball, he scores a goal” about a striker called Andy while another opponent was blown away was pure Keegan-era stuff.
After a year without, Newcastle at last have a player wearing the number nine shirt, and a “throwback” at that, in the words of Chris Hughton. Andy Carroll is the sort of target man once commonplace in English football. The match ball tucked under his arm as he walked off was a reminder that there is more than just outstanding aerial ability to his game.
Hughton (pictured right) spent all summer desperately trying to inject some realism into supporters whose enthusiasm has in the past got the better of some. Yesterday his players undid all the good work with a romp of a 6-0 win.
It is tempting to say you could never have dreamt it but judging by Alan Shearer’s reaction to Carroll’s hat-trick, seemingly clutching a betting slip after his successor in the number nine shirt coolly claimed the matchball in the third added minute, maybe someone did.
There were certainly no signs in the opening stages. Perhaps with 1974 World Cup final referee Jack Taylor on hand to present Hughton with the Football League’s champions flag we should have expected an early penalty, but it fell to Aston Villa.
Although Steve Harper pulled his hands away as Ashley Young bore down on goal, he caught the striker as he slid in. Fortunately for Newcastle, John Carew’s penalty was dreadful – not just over the bar but miles over.
The pass which led to it was badly exposing Newcastle’s Achilles heel. Whenever the ball was fed down the middle to Young – normally, as then, by Stilyan Petrov – their square back four was horribly exposed. On a couple of occasions the linesman’s flag saved them and only excellent sweeping up by Fabricio Coloccini spared James Perch’s blushes after playing Carew onside from Marc Albrighton’s pass.
Villa’s hapless defending soon changed the mood, however. When Wayne Routledge chipped a cross in, Kevin Nolan’s header was off target.
Unaware, Richard Dunne nodded it away. It was never properly cleared and when it found Joey Barton, lurking outside the area, he tried his luck. The ball swerved slightly but not dramatically and Brad Friedel, perhaps unsighted, ought to have moved the short distance to it.
The noise which greeted Barton’s first Premier League goal since October 2008 was tremendous and seemed to overwhelm Villa.
Nolan took advantage, heading in at the second attempt when Jonás Gutiérrez’s cross was knocked to him by Carroll. Stewart Downing could easily have punctured the mood a minute later, but was denied by a brilliant far-post tackle by Perch.
As Newcastle grew in confidence, Villa became more ragged. Mike Williamson headed Barton’s 34th-minute corner at Dunne, who sliced into the path of Carroll to tap in.
The striker was soon doing his bit at the other end, heading away Downing’s free-kick.
Even Alan Smith was leaving his customary post as almost a third centre-back to search of his first Newcastle goal, tangling with Dunne in the penalty area before Friedel and the defender kept out Nolan’s shot.
Villa were out early for the restart needing a quick goal but met with Williamson, whose 48th-minute penalty area tackle on Young was brilliant not only for winning the ball but also a goalkick.
Carroll’s second again came from a shot blocked but not properly cleared, this time from Gutiérrez. Williamson won the ball in the air and Carroll volleyed it in. “You’re not laughing any more!” chanted fans who have not forgotten Newcastle’s relegation at Villa Park. There were chances aplenty to add to it and you could feel the expectation as Xisco picked up the ball in his own half ready to counter-attack, only to pick out Stephen Ireland.
Villa’s bench served up two pantomime villains in Emile Heskey and the returning Habib Beye. “Where were you in Africa?” asked the Leazes End, “Heskey for Sunderland” responded the Gallowgate. When Heskey laid the ball back for Ireland, the debutant outdid Carew for the most badly ballooned shot.
The luck was with Newcastle, the ball dropping for Nolan to convert when Shola Ameobi headed against the back of a defender three minutes from time. Xisco made the last, Carroll holding off his man and keeping his head after being put through one-on-one.
In the black-and-white world of Newcastle United moderation can be hard to come by. These are not the new Entertainers, they are not coming for Chelsea’s title, but they are back where they belong and last night they partied like it’s 1996.