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Nov, 4, 2008

Barton walks tightrope as Toon off the bottom

Newcastle United won 2-0 at home over Aston Villa thanks to a brace from Obafemi Martins to take the club out of the bottom three and bolster Joe Kinnear's hopes of landing the manger's job fulltime, but despite such positive news controversial midfielder Joey Barton emerged as the main talking point from Monday night's game.

The 26-year-old was involved in a first half altercation with Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor in which Barton appeared to raise a hand to the striker and make contact with his face, although the Football Association confirmed on Tuesday that referee Steve Bennett had not seen the incident.

However, having been asked to look again at Barton's actions, Bennett decided that the incident would not have resulted in a red card and therefore there were no grounds for a retrospective charge to be brought.

Chris Hughton, standing in for interim boss Joe Kinnear at the post-match press conference with the 61-year-old having lost his voice, was quick to defend the player, who was later booked for a foul on Luke Young.

''One thing we are aware of is that any incident regarding Joey is going to be blown up twice as much as it's going to be with any other player. But as regards to what that was, I am not aware,'' said Hughton.

''All we can ask of him is to put in the performances he has done for us since he has been back. He is a very short way into his period back with us. All of those things, he is aware of.''

The former Manchester City midfielder played down the incident, telling the Newcastle Evening Chronicle that ''people are making a mountain out of a molehill.''

''Nothing has gone on. I thought it was a foul against me, and I had a hold of the ball. We shook hands after the game and that's the way it is. It was all about nothing.''

Villa boss Martin O'Neill was similarly non-plussed. Asked if it had affected Agbonlahor's performance, O'Neill said: ''It would have done if he had had to pick his nose up from the ground. It probably would have if he couldn't smell or couldn't breathe. It might have been a problem.''

For Kinnear and the Magpies fans Barton was a side issue with their main focus being the side's second consecutive win and the squad's growing confidence.

After a tight first half during which Agbonlahor had miskicked with the goal at his mercy and Shay Given had marked his 450th appearance for the club with a point-blank save from Ashley Young, the Magpies took the lead on the hour.

Martins' left-foot shot flew past Brad Friedel and into the bottom corner, and although Villa responded fleetingly, the former Inter Milan striker made sure eight minutes from time when he turned home Jonas Gutierrez's inviting cross.

The Nigeria international's second half double drags Newcastle from 20th place into 14th in the Premier League standings.

Hughton said: ''It's massive, the confidence from results and climbing away from the foot of the table. But you want to improve. We knew where we were before the game and we needed to improve on that.

''We know where we are now and what we now have with this group of lads is an opportunity to improve even more.''

O'Neill, however, was left the rue the chances which got away before the break.

He said: ''The [first] goal was a big setback to us, obviously, and the disappointment was that we were unable to conjure up something in the last 20 minutes of the game when I was hoping we would do so.''

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