IN the end it all worked out rather well. The party can start this evening.
It was a pity for the 5,000 or so who travelled to Peterborough that they were not rewarded by seeing Newcastle United clinch promotion, but ten times as many will have the chance to toast it tonight, and no doubt most who made it to London Road will be among them. Easter Saturday was a tad early to be marking the Magpies’ resurrection anyway. Now they can do it on their own turf, with Andy Carroll, Danny Guthrie, Peter Løvenkrands, Jonás Gutiérrez and Wayne Routledge on the pitch rather than the bench or the sofa.
Newcastle did their own job on Saturday – just. But the manner in which three points were earned served another timely nudge into the watching Mike Ashley’s ribs that he will have to write quite a few pretty big cheques to see the back of the Championship for good.
A game between teams who will kick off next season two divisions apart did not teach us anything we did not already know, but underlined a couple of things worth remembering. Today recall the determination so absent in recent years which has taken Chris Hughton’s team back to the division its fans belong in. But tomorrow bear in mind that Newcastle’s position streets ahead of the rest of the Championship is more down to mentality than the quality needed next term.
Peterborough’s biggest crowd this season must have been puzzled as to how a home team awaiting the last rites in this division made a side exiting in the opposite direction look so ordinary for so long. They might also wonder how Posh came away with nothing. The travelling hordes could easily have helped with that one: these Newcastle players do not know when they are dead and buried.
For 45 minutes it looked like the Magpies were trying not to repeat the mistakes of their recent promotion-winning predecessors in sealing the deal on the road. They had barely kicked off when news came through that Bristol City were leading Nottingham Forest. It looked like only the Magpies could poop today’s promotion party.
Hughton’s half-strength side could not come to terms with a horrendous pitch in the opening half. When the Magpies last came up in 1992-93, the worst player in training had to wear a yellow bib. On Saturday eight men in yellow were having “a Killer”. It was the two players lauded most loudly in the warm-up who combined to gift Peterborough their opener. Steve Harper rushed out of his area to scissor-kick Kerrea Gilbert’s long ball but instead got Fabricio Coloccini’s head. Dominic Green chipped into the unguarded net. Two minutes later, when Tommy Rowe helped on another long ball, Sergio Torres should have done likewise. Liam Dickinson led from the front, bullying Mike Williamson in a way few if any have this season. Newcastle passes were bobbling here, there and everywhere. It was 24 minutes before they mustered a shot, Kevin Nolan hitting straight at Joe Lewis.
The tension spilled into a touchline confrontation between the managers and the usual explosion from Joey Barton, frustrated when he dwelt onto the ball into a lunging tackle at Green, then a couple of running arguments. All the while Jose Enrique remained solid and Nolan energetic. On a couple of occasions the Spaniard swept up to good effect at the back post, denying Lee Frecklington soon after Lewis saved Nolan’s header from a cross which was perhaps Fabrice Pancrate’s sole positive contribution. As the fourth official signalled added time, Enrique exchanged passes with Shola Ameobi down the left and crossed for Nolan to bundle an equaliser.
Newcastle re-emerged for the second half with the gloves off – literally in the case of Barton, who curiously wore them in the first half. With his hands wrapped, Barton’s set-pieces found touch more often than yellow shirts, so Gabriel Zakuani must have thought his latest foul on Ameobi was a calculated risk only for Barton to curl a beautiful free-kick that made him the second Newcastle player in a week to break their goalscoring duck for the season. For the next 20 minutes or so, Newcastle dominated. Nolan gifted possession but won it back, delivering to Leon Best. He squared to Ameobi and the cabbage patch pitch ushered his shot through Lewis’ hands.
Peterborough would come again. The inevitable false alarm rippled around the away end as fans celebrated a non-existent Bristol goal, and the players also lost their composure. Dickinson converted after Nolan unwittingly helped a long throw into his path. Coloccini cleared Ryan Bennett’s header off the line, Frecklington and Dickinson nodded glorious chances over and the referee waved away convincing penalty appeals after Coloccini’s tackle on Rowe.
But today, raise a glass to the men who have put the pride back into Newcastle United. Worrying about the future can wait until tomorrow.