NEWCASTLE // Newcastle United have come full circle. Relegated from the Premier League when they last met Aston Villa, they announced the return of top-flight football to St James' Park in joyous, jubilant fashion. At a club where Geordie blood is cherished and the notion of homegrown heroes relished, Andy Carroll's hat-trick epitomised the change from lacklustre to luminous. Carroll brought a feelgood factor to Newcastle's belated revenge on Villa. Above all, though, this was a cathartic victory and one to suggest the dark days of May 2009 have produced a long-term benefit. Fifteen months ago, a self-destructive streak was summed up when Damien Duff's own goal sent them down. Rubbish then, they were rampant now. This is a new Newcastle, one which fully merits the suffix United.
They may eschew stylistic flourishes and embrace physical force but they provided the purpose and potency required. This Newcastle, unlike some of their predecessors, have a palpable hunger and their manager has a downbeat realism. "It's a fantastic day for us but we know there won't be too many days like that," said Chris Hughton. Goals from Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan (2) and Carroll maintained the impetus Newcastle acquired at St James' Park last season, when they were the only team in English football to complete the campaign unbeaten on home soil.
"It was important to make a statement today and now we want to carry the momentum forward," said Barton. He, some would say inevitably, was suspended when Newcastle were condemned to the Championship. Eligible now, he gave an illustration of the quality that has punctuated the controversy in his career. A ferocious 25-yard shot swerved enough to defeat Brad Friedel in the Villa goal. Coupled with the subsequent strikes, it is enough to reacquaint him with his razor. The midfielder was one of a group of Newcastle players sporting a moustache and vowing not to shave until United won a Premier League game.
That was effectively guaranteed with almost an hour remaining by a burst of two goals in four minutes. First Jose Enrique crossed for Carroll to head the ball back to Nolan, the advancing midfielder. An initial header was parried by Friedel; a second defeated the goalkeeper. Then, when Mike Williamson met a corner, Richard Dunne made a hash of his attempt at a clearance and Carroll drilled the ball in at the far post.
His next was taken similarly clinically, a low volley on his favoured left foot after Williamson poked a pass over the Villa defence. After Nolan hooked in his second after Villa failed to clear another corner, Carroll's smooth side-foot brought a first treble and Newcastle's biggest Premier League win for 11 years. It was a rout on a day to be savoured for the lifelong Newcastle fan; handed the most iconic shirt in the club's history, the No 9, Carroll delivered his first goals as the official inheritor of a tradition that includes Hughie Gallacher, Jackie Milburn and the watching Alan Shearer. For a player who is something of a throwback in his aggressive style, the references to the past may be fitting.
"He is still developing but what he has is great desire and aptitude to improve," Hughton added. He has agreed terms to sign Cheick Tiote, the Ivorian midfielder, from Dutch champions FC Twente and said: "Once we got the first goal, it lifted any fears we might have had and we were able to go on and play some very good football." Indeed, so resounding was the margin that it was easy to forget that Villa should have scored first. Yet, after nine minutes, Steve Harper upended Ashley Young.
John Carew's penalty with such venom and elevation that it nestled in the upper tier of the Gallowgate End. In the subsequent capitulation, Kevin MacDonald's chances of succeeding Martin O'Neill receded rapidly. Earlier in the day, Bob Bradley, the USA coach, confirmed he had been in contact with the club, which appeared appealing when MacDonald oversaw an emphatic win against West Ham United, but which may be losing its lustre.
"Today's result won't change my thinking," said MacDonald, who has been reluctant to put his name forward. It may alter chairman Randy Lerner's, though. email@example.com