Superb Harper kicks new era into top gear

By Nick Howson

Steve Harper

An inspired performance from goalkeeper Steve Harper ensured Newcastle United celebrated their new backroom stability by going top of the Coca Cola Championship after prevailing in a 1-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

The 34-year-old seemed intent on impressing his onlooking former teammate Shay Given, with a number of first class reaction saves to deny the Blades a point.

His stop from Darius Henderson’s late header particularly caught the eye, and his showing was yet again the cornerstone of another impressive away win for the Magpies.

The win took Newcastle two points clear at the top of the Championship, news that is sure to excite plenty of fans in the North East — but perhaps last week’s announcement about the club’s immediate future will make more of an impact at St James’.

Just a week ago it was announced that Chris Hughton would be appointed full-time manager of the Geordies and more importantly that owner Mike Ashley had taken the club off the market and promised to invest in its future.

Ashley had originally put the club up for sale 14 months ago, but a number of failed takeovers by local and foreign investors has led to Ashley taking a new interest in taking the club forward himself, and it’s this sort of stability that the clubs supporters have been craving.

Confusion over the destiny of the club had been widespread since Ashley’s admission that he could no longer run the club but last weeks announcement means the club can finally move forward off the pitch and concentrate fully on regaining their place in the Premier League.

Newcastle’s performances and results have in fact been a far cry from the chaos that’s been going on behind the scenes and last night’s triumph was their ninth win in 15 league games.

Given the psychological scar that relegation left on the players, this season’s effort has been truly astonishing, especially with a painfully thin squad to work with.

The trio of Marlon Harewood, Danny Simpson and Zurab Khizanishvili have arrived on short-term deals to bolster the side, but despite the impressive start the squad still needs more work if promotion is to be assured.

Hughton must be praised for getting on with his job with limited resources, and with the confusion surrounding his and the club’s future, his commitment to the cause means he’s deserved his chance.

Fortunately for the manager finances may well be available in the near future after Ashley announced that he plans to sell the St James’ Park name to gain further revenue.

In keeping with their frustration during Ashley’s tenure at the club, fans have reacted angrily to the move with the supporters’ trust starting a petition in a vain attempt to ensure the stadium’s original name is retained.

It seems that no matter what Ashley does at the club the supporters simply won’t back him, and now that Hughton has been appointed as full-time manager it should now delay, if not extinguish the possibility of Alan Shearer undertaking a second spell in charge of his hometown club despite the supporters’ wishes.

Despite being a fans’ favourite, the former England captain displayed tactical naivety when in charge last season and it is perfectly feasible that had Shearer taken over last week, all of the momentum and success created by Hughton would have been lost.

While the supporters may never warm up to the ‘cockney mafia’ at St James’ it’s surely the results on the pitch that count — and although we’re only in November, it’s doubtful that they’ll be complaining just yet.

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