Familiar faces make Toon suffer
Familiar faces haunted St James' Park on Sunday afternoon as Sam Allardyce guided West Ham to their first win in fourteen years at Newcastle, thanks to a goal from former Magpies captain Kevin Nolan.
On a day when everything went right for him on Tyneside, Allardyce will most likely take great pleasure from the decision not to listen to his wife back in 2008 when, days after Newcastle dispensed with his services, she suggested he retire. "She said for God's sake, you're better off out of it, is it worth it?" Allardyce revealed earlier this week. Perhaps today proving that for a man like Allardyce it is worth it after all.
A polarising character, his post match referencing to Nolan's disallowed goal against Manchester City last week and making his own comparisons to Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger when discussing his experience in the Premier League highlighted why, for some, he lacks the charm and diplomacy that other Premier League managers showcase.
In amongst midweek pre-marital memories, Allardyce also claimed that the game meant more to Nolan and on-loan Andy Carroll than himself. The former Magpies manager maintained the stance after game but it's a difficult line to believe given just how chronically his reputation plummeted in the wake of his spell on Tyneside.
Having famously named seven defenders while Newcastle boss - it was the quality of play and defensive tactics that irked the majority of fans - it is something that West Ham supporters care little about after a brief stay in England's second tier; the away end deciding to vocalise their preference for points over 'beautiful football' throughout the game.
Intrinsically defensive, as is the trademark of an Allardyce side, for much of the first half the long ball was occasionally supplemented by passing interplay on the halfway line, with Carroll often the target.
On his last return to Newcastle, with Liverpool, Carroll looked timid and awkward. This time, playing in a side that concentrated their efforts on maximising his strengths and negating his weaknesses, he seemed confident and assured, eliciting references to Bryan 'Pop' Robson - who played and scored consistently for both clubs following a similarly acrimonious departure from Tyneside.
With the first half garnering few chances, the entertainment fell to the duel between Carroll and Steven Taylor. Never great friends despite both having emerged from the club's academy at the same time, the pair famously traded blows in the physio's room during Newcastle's Championship campaign with Taylor left nursing a broken jaw as a consequence.
But, six minutes before half-time, the moment many a home fan did not want to see occurred. Nolan, as he had so often done while on Tyneside, was able to pounce on a skewed shot and turn it past Tim Krul - his solemn celebration the sign of a man who still held great affinity for the club if not its hierarchy.
While Newcastle's long balls struggled to stick to Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse up front, Carroll showed why West Ham is the kind of club he can thrive at. His close control made it difficult for the Magpies' centre-backs to touch him and it was notable that the half-time interval saw Pardew warm up another target man, Shola Ameobi.
First out of the tunnel in the second half, Newcastle started at a frenetic pace, but the game became stretched with the centre of the park an uninhabited gulf of space. Quickly, the teams swapped tactical ideas: Newcastle looking to be more direct; West Ham eager to catch their opponents on the counter-attack.
A chance for Carroll to banish the demons of his last visit to St James' Park couldn't be taken and there was an audible sense of relief when his shot cannoned off Tim Krul, but the terrible twosome were still a threat. Not content with marshalling his team-mates, Nolan urged those on the bench to calm down - displaying the kind of leadership abilities that have seen him captain three different Premier League sides - and was key in organising the Hammers' defensive efforts as the game wore on.
As stoppage time faded away, Carroll was moved from figurehead striker to defensive midfielder alongside his good friend and captain. His aerial prowess on display in both penalty boxes throughout the afternoon, few could contest this had been the kind of result and tactical display that Allardyce had built his reputation on. One that still didn't appeal to the home fans.
After the game, Alan Pardew said his team failed to create that 'special moment' but was unwilling to blame their midweek jaunt to Brugge in the Europa League. Instead, the manager said his men lacked rhythm; a surprising regression given how free-flowing their football had been towards the end of last season.
Referring to Newcastle as 'the big boys' after the game, Allardyce showed signs that perhaps he is changing. When asked if his side deserved more acclaim for their start to the season, he replied: "I think the team will grow in terms of credit if it continues where it is."
A glimmer of modesty on a day when he would not have been begrudged some self-publicity.