Newcastle United’s Kevin Nolan aims high

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CAPTAIN Kevin Nolan helped Newcastle United overcome their relegation-season points total last night – then insisted the club can push onwards and upwards, writes MILES STARFORTH.

Nolan and his team-mates beat Birmingham City 2-0 last night thanks to goals from Peter Lovenkrands and Leon Best.

And the result took Newcastle past the 34-points they accumulated the season before last, when the club was relegated on the final day of the campaign.

Newcastle’s players have coped with the dismissal of Chris Hughton and the sale of Andy Carroll.

Nolan says the reaction in the dressing room to those events has underlined that no-one is bigger than the team, which he believes is capable of competing for a European place next season.

“The team’s totally different from the one that went down,” Nolan said.

“Everyone went on about Chris going and Andy being sold, but we know we’re a team with a tough mentality. There was no one player or man who was doing it – it was a team.

“If we were going to do what we wanted, it was going to be a team effort. It think that’s what’s shown, and the fans were fantastic again. They’re starting to see that this team wants to do the best it can for Newcastle United.

“Hopefully, with a bit of investment, we can seriously start pushing up the table to where this city and these fans belong, which is the European places.”

Pardew’s players had been frustrated not to take all three points from their game at Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, having dominated the game at Ewood Park.

However, the four points they have taken from the past two games sets them up well for the home game against Nolan’s former club Bolton Wanderers a week on Saturday.

Nolan added: “We followed up a fantastic performance on Saturday with another one.

“I’m absolutely delighted with it. We got a couple of goals, and looked confident and solid.

“We bossed the game from start to finish. It always helps when you get that early goal. I think they only had one chance all game, which shows what we’ve been working hard on.

“I’m just delighted to get the three points. Four points out of the six is happy days, really.

“People keep looking at the opposition, but I like to give credit to what we do. What the gaffer’s been working on has been fantastic, and I think it’s coming up trumps.

“We’re going well. I’m delighted with the way everything’s going. We’ve got two home games coming up, and we’ll be going in with sky-high confidence.”

The opener arrived in just the second minute. Left-back Jose Enrique storming up the flank, only for his cross to be cleared to Jonas Gutierrez.

The Argentinian 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.

The Blues’ gloom deepened five minutes 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.

Boss Pardew hailed his side: “That was a complete performance as an away team against a team in good form.

“They showed that early on. We probably won the game in the first 20 minutes as we didn’t concede. We were strong. They work the ball to put angled balls in the box. We had a gameplan to deal with that, and it worked very well..”

Keeper Steve Harper only had a couple of saves to make – notably from Nikola Zigic – while former United striker Obafemi Martins was substituted after a largely anonymous performance.

“Zigic had one free header, which only he could have got to, as he was about 8ft high,” added Pardew. “We didn’t give them any time or chance to get at our goal. It was a really pleasing performance on that front.

BIRMINGHAM: Foster, Carr, Johnson, Jiranek (Murphy 73), Ridgewell, Larsson (Phillips 75), Ferguson, Gardner, Bentley, Martins (Jerome 58), Zigic. Subs not used: Doyle, Bowyer, Fahey, Beausejour. Booked: Murphy

NEWCASTLE: Harper, Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Enrique, Barton, Tiote, Nolan, Gutierrez (Campbell 87), Lovenkrands (Ranger 64), Best (Guthrie 75). Subs not used: Krul, Perch, Ferguson, Kuqi. Booked: Nolan, Barton, Ranger. Goals: Lovenkrands 2, Best 50

Att: 28,270. Ref: Lee Mason (Lancashire).