In far too many ways the Mike Ashley era at Newcastle United has been all about the abdication of responsibility.
It speaks volumes that almost exactly eight years since buying the club, the billionaire Sports Direct owner finally agreed to face the television cameras in his first broadcast interview yesterday.
In what could be interpreted as an extraordinary apology for the negligence of recent months and years, Ashley conceded that Newcastle required “luck” yesterday.
They also needed on-field leadership of the sort latterly conspicuous by its absence. Fortunately for an owner contemplating the loss of countless millions in TV revenue, Jonás Gutiérrez was around to provide it.
Only six months after completing a course of chemotherapy for testicular cancer, Gutiérrez was back on his preferred left wing and excelling in what will surely be his final appearance in the black-and-white shirt.
The Argentinian not only strained to win every remotely available ball but also scored the wonderful long-range second goal. By then the extra contingent of police officers drafted in for crowd-security duties knew this was going to turn into an easy afternoon’s overtime. Not surprisingly proposed post-match protests never really got going.
At any price
Around 90 minutes earlier, Ashley’s pledge that Newcastle is not for sale “at any price” until a trophy is won had prompted incredulity. Yet at least the promises to invest heavily next season and the personal acceptance of responsibility for the team’s present plight were welcome.
Down in the home technical area, manager John Carver was wearing his usual tracksuit in a role which has got more difficult with each passing week. Usually a hyperactive technical area presence, he barely ventured out of his padded seat. Perhaps Carver was simply exhausted, maybe he had opted to simply let fate take its course or was it simply his way of passing the baton of responsibility to a group of players latterly woefully short on leadership credentials?
If the ferocity of Sam Allardyce's touchline gum chewing could be regarded as a reliable barometer, Carver had cause for cautious optimism. Encouragingly Gutiérrez was not the only one shining in the weak May sunshine. Others impressed too, with Daryl Janmaat excelling at right-back.
The only problem was converting chances. When, early in the second half, Emmanuel Rivière contrived to spurn a sitter Ashley covered his face with his hands.
Minutes later when Moussa Sissoko finally scored players and fans found themselves re-united in the by now almost unfamiliar act of celebration and even Carver was out of his seat and on the pitch.
Yet even as he urged his team forward West Ham’s manager would not have been human had he not been a little indifferent to the outcome. Admittedly Ashley sacked him as Newcastle’s manager seven years ago but in return Allardyce got a £4 million pay-off from Newcastle, promptly reinvested in a Spanish villa. He is due there later today, where he can reflecting on life after Upton Park.
Indeed, as “Big Sam” stood on the touchline he knew the final whistle would coincide with the announcement of his divorce from West Ham by “mutual consent”.
With his deal ending, confirmation of Gutiérrez’s expected separation from Newcastle is also imminent but as his goal flew in, the here and now was all that mattered. Even Martin Atkinson became swept up in the mood. After issuing the winger with a compulsory booking for celebratory shirt removal, the referee, could not resist patting Gutiérrez on the bottom. It was that sort of day. A bit surreal. Guardian Service