Wednesday's Premiership encounter between Blackburn and Newcastle was a match between two solid, physical teams - only to be expected from a Sam Allardyce squad and a side fielding Mike Williamson, Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan. It ended, as it begun, with a Newcastle United lapse in concentration costing them a goal and with Blackburn taking the points at St. James' Park as Newcastle's home form turned from middling into mediocre.
Another loss to mid-table opposition at St. James' Park suggests last year's bastion remains just that: a thing of the past. This Rovers team are perhaps the most well-suited side to defeat a Newcastle team that this year has thrived on three things: physicality, a solid midfield and a mature defence based on positioning and efforts of will rather than on athleticism. The form of Andy Carroll so worried Allardyce that he employed three centre-backs rather than his standard pair Ryan Nelsen and Christopher Samba. It was a winning move even though the man they sought to stop, Carroll, was still Newcastle's most threatening piece in a chess game less about guile than about out-and-out battlefield slaughter. As Hughton's queen (it's the hair, you understand. Oh and also his ability to wreak devastation on opponents) he was less-supported by his wide men as in recent matches even though the whole side was quite Andy-Conscious. He was able to convert a header from a Barton free kick all but ensuring a worthy England call later this week.
The Newcastle midfield receiving plaudits for its form this year were outplayed. With Barton, Nolan and Tiote not a trio ever to be mistaken for Happy Feet they were not so mcuh outhustled as outclassed as Rovers wide men Brett Emerton and Morten Gamst Pedersen proved effective against a midfield so effective three days previously against Arsenal.
The two goals resulted from simple lapses in concentration from Tiote and Mike Williamson. Joey Barton had a lapse in concentration of a different kind: he will be suspended for his gut-punch to Pedersen after presenting a restrained, mature front for a third of the season. Fans and managers alike were hoping that this newfound maturity could last - even though he has shown remorse his actions once again call into question his temperament. Indeed, that maturity may well be the watchword for the Toon this year.
This season has been and will continue to be a year of maturation for the Newcastle United squad and for the faithful. They sport - for the most part - a more wise game plan than when they were relegated. Mike Ashley has justifiably refused to offer The Understated One a long-term contract as a result of one year's effective management. It appears caution is the watchword on Tyneside and it would appear to be working.
Just as in life, maturing doesn't happen as the result of a decision but of experience: ask any parent. Rather than an alchemical process where a mentor adds ingredients and suddenly lead is turn'd to gold, the obtaining of wisdom is gentle steeping which increases in richness and flavour as the subject is exposed to it. The process starts, there are ups and downs and the result is due to the journey rather than any decision made along the way. The journey maketh the man. Perhaps it's similar of Newcastle United this year: the journey needs to maketh the team.