Sam Allardyce plus Wayne Rooney equal trouble for Newcastle United.
Allardyce has a phenomenal managerial record at St James’s Park, while Rooney just loves scoring against Newcastle.
And a Rooney goal – his 15th Premier League strike against the club – condemned Rafa Benitez’s side to yet another defeat, their seventh in eight games.
Yet United were better – much better – in last night’s 1-0 defeat to Everton.
Newcastle twice struck the woodwork but were undone by yet another individual error, this time from goalkeeper Karl Darlow.
And United will be without Jonjo Shelvey, sent off for two bookable offences, for Saturday’s game against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
The game kicked hours after it emerged that Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners had made an improved £300million offer for the club, which was put up for sale in October.
A deal is close, though a takeover is unlikely to be completed before the end of January’s transfer window. If Tyneside was down in the wake of the weekend’s defeat to Leicester City, then it had been lifted by reports of a breakthrough that could see Benitez given funds to strengthen in the window.
For all the recent negativity, there was positivity inside the stadium at kick-off time. The news of a proposed deal had seemingly heralded the beginning of the end of Ashley’s 10-year reign.
Benitez made four changes for the Everton game and fielded just one striker – Dwight Gayle. The return of captain Jamaal Lascelles – his leadership has been missed in his absence – was expected.
However, fans weren’t expecting a recall for Mohamed Diame, who was brought back into the team for his physicality.
Newcastle, backed by a vocal crowd, started well.
They pinned Everton back in the opening minutes and Matt Ritchie and Christian Atsu, making his first start in more than a month after recovering from a thigh injury, found spaces down the flanks.
Former Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was given a hot reception on another cold night.
Many fans had wanted Mikel Merino to be paired with Jonjo Shelvey, and the pair, playing behind No 10 Diame, moved the ball well. Diame almost got on the end of a teasing right-wing ball from Ritchie, who struck the woodwork with a fierce left-footed shot in the 25th minute.
Rooney had hardly touched the ball up to then. But seconds after Ritchie’s effort hit the post, Rooney had the ball in the net. Dominic Calvert-Lewin crossed from the right, and Aaron Lennon’s header was spilled by Darlow. Rooney prodded the ball home at the far post.
Hurt by the strike, which had come against the run of play, Newcastle fought back.
Merino struck the post from 25 yards late in the half, while Gayle, leading the line ahead of Joselu, shot at Pickford.
An unchanged United continued to press for an equaliser after the break.
Merino had a shock blocked and Florian Lejeune, preferred to Ciaran Clark in defence, headed wide of Pickford’s goal. There was a “get out of our club” chant aimed at Ashley, not present at the stadium, midway through the half.
There were also ironic cheers when Diame was replaced by Joselu in the 67th minute. Benitez then sent on Rolando Aarons – he replaced Ritchie – to test 20-year-old right-back Jonjoe Kenny.
Rooney soon hobbled off the field to boos from most inside St James’s Park.
And still, for all Newcastle’s possession, they couldn’t test Pickford. Everton was organised and stubborn.
Shelvey, recalled to the starting XI, was sent off late in the game after picking up a second yellow card for a late challenge.
Premier League safety is far, far away. But there’s a new hope on Tyneside.