Newcastle Are Finally Getting a Handle on the Art of Defending; Pancrate Makes Explosive Impact While at the Back: Magpies Are Quietly Dispelling Old Pre-Conceptions

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Byline: Luke Edwards

Newcastle United 2 Watford 0 IT has been both a stick to beat them with and a carrot to treat them. It has been a lazy stereotype worn like a badge of honour by some supporters starved of tangible trophy success for the last 40 years.

Yet, Newcastle United under Chris Hughton are proof attacking football is not everything, winning football matches is. This was the Magpies' sixth successive victory, but it was also their 11th clean sheet of the season.

There should be pride in both as one would not have come without the other. Having spent so long thriving on the Entertainers tag, Newcastle are discovering they can do just as well by not conceding as they can by scoring a bucketful of goals.

Some of the football this season has been ugly to watch and some of the performances have been turgid to the point of exasperation, but results are all that matter and it is about time Newcastle mastered the art of winning games without playing well.

For once this season, the hard luck stories, the complaints and the whatmight-have-beens have belonged to the opposition. Newcastle just get on with collecting the points. It is hard-nosed professionalism and it should be welcomed, particularly when you consider everything that led Newcastle to this point.

It would be easy to say Newcastle have sacrificed something to grind out the wins which have given them a ten-point cushion between themselves and the play-off places, but they have scored ten goals in four games since Peterborough grabbed a consolation effort on November 7.

No wonder Hughton has claimed his third manager of the month award this season. He is a no frills media man, but Newcastle needed stability and leadership after the turmoil of the summer, not a walking soundbite. We would like him to tell us more about his transfer progress, whether the deal to sign Danny Simpson on a permanent basis from Manchester United is going to happen or if Marlon Harewood has done enough to extend his stay on Tyneside, but in the meantime we shall congratulate him and the players on a job well done.

This may have been another regulation victory for Newcastle United but it was never easy, nothing ever is in a division in which they remain the team everyone would love to beat.

Watford gave them plenty of problems going forward, but on the few occasions they breached United's disciplined back line they were either denied by some superb goalkeeping from Steve Harper or failed to find the target. That remains the big difference in the Championship, the lack of a clinical finish, but we should dwell on Harper's form for a while.

At 34, some might have felt he waited too long for his chance to be number one at Newcastle. Steeping out of the shadow of Shay Given was never going to be easy when the Irishman dashed off to Manchester City back in January, but Harper has stepped up admirably.

While the standard of football generally may not be as high in the Championship an excellent save by a goalkeeper is still an excellent save whether it is Wayne Rooney or Heidar Helguson having the shot. …


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