LEON Best shot Newcastle United back into the Premier League’s top six at St James’s Park this afternoon, writes Miles Starforth.
Alan Pardew’s side beat Queens Park Rangers 1-0 thanks to Best’s first-half strike.
And the result lifted Newcastle above Liverpool in the league table.
However, an ankle injury to Yohan Cabaye took the gloss off the victory, the midfielder having to be stretchered off after being caught by a late Shaun Derry challenge.
Pardew’s team selection was the pre-match talking point, with Hatem Ben Arfa having dropped down to the bench eight days after scoring a stunning goal in Newcastle’s FA Cup win over Blackburn Rovers.
QPR made the brighter start and the first real chance of the game fell to Shaun Wright-Phillips, who struck the crossbar from distance.
Pardew was forced into an early chance when Derry injured Cabaye with his crude tackle, Ben Arfa being sent on for Cabaye.
While the injury was a significant blow to United, it brought St James’s Park to life and the momentum was with Newcastle, with a rejigged 4-3-3 formation, for the rest of the half, Ryan Taylor forcing a save from 25 yards.
And the breakthrough came in the 37th minute when Shola Ameobi brought a cross from the right down for Taylor, who found Best.
The striker, without a goal since September, skipped past Luke Young with some neat footwork before rolling the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.
Pardew sent out an unchanged team for the second half and they found QPR difficult to break down, with clear-cut chances few and far between, though Hughes’s side were steadily forced deeper as the half wore on.
Ben Arfa, playing on the right side of a three-man attack, repeatedly worried the visitors, but they hung on and Pardew, wary of the counter-attack, adopted a more defensive formation for the last 15 minutes, with James Perch coming on for Best.
Hughes sent on Federico Macheda to perk up an attack which, up to then, had not got much change out of Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson.
The second goal never came, but Best’s strike was still enough to claim all three points for United, who travel to Fulham on Saturday looking to make it four wins in a row.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Krul; Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon; R Taylor (Gosling, 82), Cabaye (Ben Arfa, 25), Guthrie, Gutierrez; Shola Ameobi, Best (Perch, 77). Subs not used: Elliot, Abeid, Obertan, Ferguson.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS: Kenny; Young, Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Hill; Mackie, Buzaky (Macheda, 76), Derry, Wright-Phillips; Helguson (Smith, 65), Bothroyd. Subs not used: Cerny, Orr, Hall, Campbell, Ephraim.
Goals: Best 37
Bookings: Derry 18, Hill 33, Bothroyd 39
Referee: Chris Foy (St Helens)
Attendance: 49,865 (1,300 QPR)
Read Miles’s full match report, plus more reaction and photos, in tomorrow’s Echo.