Newcastle United claim priceless win over Birmingham City

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IT might have been a long time since Newcastle United last signed a £10m striker.

But money doesn’t always guarantee you blood, sweat and tears.

On paper, the side relegated two seasons ago, which included Obafemi Martins, was too good to go down.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

There hasn’t been the kind of millions lavished on a player like Martins since that fateful campaign, but the sum of the parts is often greater than the whole.

And that was underlined at a sodden St Andrew’s last night.

It was the unfashionable partnership of Leon Best and Peter Lovenkrands who got the goals, Alan Pardew’s side beating Birmingham City 2-0 to edge even closer to another season of Premier League football at St James’s Park.

Back in the days when Newcastle spent big on the likes of Martins and Michael Owen, the club’s top-flight status was almost a given.

Not any more and United have learned the hard way that they can take nothing for granted, not least on a waterlogged pitch on a cold, wet Tuesday night in Birmingham.

Backed by more than 3,000 fans, Newcastle took the game to their hosts, with Jose Enrique storming up the left side in the second minute, only for his cross to be cleared to Jonas Gutierrez.

Gutierrez shuffled the ball on to his left foot before delivering it to the near post, where Lovenkrands got ahead of Roger Johnson to put United ahead.

Birmingham – the division’s lowest home scorers – fought back, with Johnson heading wide and Steve Harper denying Nikola Zigic, who was partnering Martins up front.

By the end of the half, the home supporters in the season-high St Andrew’s crowd were getting frustrated and the gloom among them deepened after the break.

And it was again down to Gutierrez, whose contribution in the final third has often been questioned.

Gutierrez again delivered from the left, and this time his ball was met by the head of Best, the strike his fifth in as many starts.

Martins – who had been a peripheral figure – was soon withdrawn, and United doggedly saw out the rest of the game to take their points tally above that in the 2008/09 campaign with 11 games left to play.

That’s quite an achievement for a side in its first campaign back in the Premier League.

And, for that matter, one that had to come to terms with the sacking of the man, Chris Hughton, who had done so much to rebuild a shattered dressing room, and the sale of leading scorer Andy Carroll.

Clearly, the club’s far stronger without the likes of Martins and Michael Owen, whose fitful contributions to the battle against relegation will be remembered on Tyneside by those with long memories.

Those dark days are thankfully now a distant memory, and the togetherness between players and fans, forged in adversity last season, was evident at the end.

And those that stayed on and fought in the wake of relegation are getting their rewards.