For Alan Pardew yesterday, netball may have been back on the agenda. What is more, it kept him off ‘Goals on Sunday’ too.
The morning after the nightmare before, when Liverpool last left Tyneside in ruin, Pardew’s young daughter snubbed their early-Sunday hoop practice.
So after Saturday’s vastly-improved goal defence and attack, it seems likely the Newcastle United manager will have won back some sporting affection – and not just among his children.
His team restored some pride too, for themselves and their following.
For after 500 or so supporters marched from City Hall to Leazes Park, calling ‘Time4Change’ and waved white handerchiefs at an absent owner – Mike Ashley got his in thereafter with a Joe Kinnear-penned attempt at justifying the club’s financial project in the matchday programme – the Magpies staged a protest of their own.
Left to hang in a “psychological bad place” after April’s 6-0 slaughter by the Reds, Pardew admitted in advance of the weekend the hangover lingered.
A response was nothing less than imperative then and, though still tainted by familiar flaws, Newcastle duly obliged with a performance of applaudable spirit and character but also dashed with sufficient slices of derring-do.
In fact, it positively reeked of making amends.
United still lack the self-confidence to appear settled, to be comfortable with a lead – we saw as much at Aston Villa and at home to Hull City.
Yet here were Liverpool, improved since Easter and with their SAS re-established by the return of Luis Suarez.
Here were Newcastle, 10 men for close to an hour.
Yet before and during it, they and Pardew got things right.
These two clubs have not shared a goalless draw in my lifetime – February 23, 1974 was the last – and prior to a midday kick-off,Pardew had promised to “set up to attack but,” adding forebodingly, “we will concede”.
Spot on, then.
The Toon Army can take a lot – it’s had to, still does – but it demands by way of compensation and consolation a side at the very least giving it a go. Pardew, a Cockney but cannily in tune to the beat of the Geordie Nation, knows it.
So while Papiss Cisse was, perhaps mercifully, spared, Hatem Ben Arfa returned – literally, centrally – in his place, with supporting flankers to counter Liverpool’s wing-backs who, positively, stayed largely in place even with a man down.
Hence chances, even late on. Hope, it’s all most ask for.
Behind them Yohan Cabaye took a giant leap down his road to Damascus and not merely with a goal of splendid ambition, adventure and technique.
His rehabilitation is not yet complete, so Pardew was right to draw from Cheick Tiote’s heightened discipline and responsibility by, in the absence of Fabricio Coloccini, handing him the captaincyand not the Frenchman.
Though still prone to the occasional brain-fart in possession, the stand-in skipper led the way as a busy, industrious display got in Red faces, nicked balls off toes and intercepted passes.
They shut Liverpool down.
They also learned their lesson from last time, defending deeper and in numbers and making Liverpool earn their takings.
That they left disappointed by a draw tells a tale of frustration at an inability to break United, but also of the credit Newcastle can take from that.
This was important. Newcastle were 10th in the Premier League by the end (and Liverpool, briefly, top). Vitally, belief ought to be emboldened ahead of Sunday’s Wear-Tyne derby and a tricky fortnight thereafter.
On Saturday lunchtime, it did not take long to emerge and after the visitors enjoyed the better of the early openings, the 23rd minute brought Cabaye’s moment of reparation – and United’s lead.
Dug in on halfway wide left, Santon found Tiote inside, he opened up and switched play to Cabaye, who tore into the inside-right channel and unleashed a dipping, swerving shot beyond Simon Mignolet from 30 yards.
The ovation afforded the French international was only matched on his late withdrawal. He seems, largely, forgiven.
Alas, United’s struggles in pole then resurfaced. Their calm assuredness leaked away. Nervousness took its place.
On 39 minutes, Tiote gifted possession to Suarez, who traded passes with Sturridge before drawing a smart save out of Krul. A minute later, Liverpool went one better.
Hobbling out of defence with an injury, Tiote played Suarez onside chasing a Sturridge pass. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Coloccini’s replacement, laid a hand on the Uruguayan’s shoulderand paid the penalty twofold: red-carded, while Steven Gerrard converted the spot-kick, his 100th Premier League goal.
That is three dismissals in three – following Mathieu Debuchy and Steven Taylor – for referee Andre Marriner but no one could argue.
Contact was minimal, but contact it was. Now Newcastle faced a test. They passed it.
On 56 minutes, Martin Skrtel bundled into the back of Ben Arfa, Cabaye floated the resulting free-kick at goal, Kolo Toure inadvertently flicked on and ghosting blindside at the back post, Paul Dummett – on after the sending off and at centre-back too – calmy side-footed a cushioned volley across Mignolet and in.
United’s first goal not by a Frenchman this season was also Dummett’s first, ever, in only his second senior appearance.Admirably, Newcastle kept at it too, any nerves now natural, more justified. Ten men had victory in sight.
Yet there remained a long way to go and on 72 minutes, moments after Liverpool fans let off a banger to burst the eardrums, their equally-explosive SAS broke home hearts.
Victor Moses sent Suarez to the left byline, Krul over-committed himself and from close-range Sturridge nodded in. There was still time to see Loic Remy enjoy two hope-filled counters, but not their endings.
Then, in a 97th-minute the result of some mindless time-wasting among the Leazes End, Suarez – who had earlier hit the bar – bought a foul from Debuchy, but saw his last-ditch free-kick beaten away by Krul.