Saturday, September 26, 2009
Toon deliver fitting tribute to Sir Bobby
Sir Bobby Robson would have been as delighted about Newcastle United's performance as he would have been depressed about Ipswich Town's.
At the end of a day when thousands of fans joined together to celebrate the life of one of the game's most cherished characters, it was those supporters in black-and-white who were singing his name long into the night.
Robson, typically, would have wanted both clubs to win, but the destination of three precious points was never in doubt after Kevin Nolan put Newcastle in front. Four minutes later the Toon were toasting two more goals and a return to the top of the Championship.
Ipswich's fragile confidence nosedived. It could, and perhaps should, have been more than the eventual four. If the contrast on the pitch was stark, the body language on the bench was even more striking.
Roy Keane's grim face was matched on the terraces. The same Town supporters who began the day filled with emotion and optimism couldn't wait to get home. Boos rang out upon the final whistle.
His opposite number, Chris Hughton - Newcastle's much-maligned temporary manager - was up and down like a jack in the box, directing his team around and celebrating goals with gusto.
It was easy to forget this is still a club supposedly in crisis. No permanent manager, a gargantuan wage bill, a takeover saga bordering on the ridiculous and a former manager taking the club to the cleaners because he believes he was forced out of the club.
But Hughton and his current crop of players have manifested a team sprit Robson would have been proud of, one that transcends their off-field difficulties. The Magpies have now won seven of their nine league games, conceding just four goals.
Ipswich sit 22 places below them, without a win and a goal difference of minus 11. Keane's arrival brought with it dreams that they could regain their place in the top flight. Clinging onto Championship status looks a long way off on this evidence.
One can only hope Town fans are still prepared to bid good money for the commemorative shirts their side wore, seeing as the profits are going to Sir Bobby's cancer charity.
Before the game wreaths were laid at the statue of Robson outside Portman Road. To mark the meeting of two sides Robson lead with such distinction a scarf bearing the badges of both clubs was draped round his neck.
'Abide with Me' was sung before kick-off and Frank Sinatra's 'My Way' (a Robson favourite) rang out at half-time before Lady Elsie Robson officially opened the new Sir Bobby Robson stand.
By then the game was over. Nolan notched his first with a precise header from a Ryan Taylor free-kick. Two minutes later he galloped onto an Andy Carroll pass and cut inside Pim Balkestein before slotting past Richard Wright.
And just two minutes after that Ryan Taylor's free kick deceived Wright and planted itself in the top corner. Ipswich were shell-shocked and never recovered.
United were in cruise control in the second half, adding to their tally when Nolan completed his first senior hat-trick. Nile Ranger nodded another Taylor centre across goal and the former Bolton midfielder finished from four yards.
Final, hearty tributes to Robson were launched from the Newcastle section before the final whistle sounded. It signalled the end of a week of remembrance for a true gentleman of the game.
On Monday, over 1,000 people attended a memorial service at Durham Cathedral. Inside Portman Road all 27,000 supporters chanted their former manager's name in unison. The great man may be gone but he will never be forgotten.