Just months after receiving the all-clear, the Argentinian led the way for Newcastle, proving that while football might not quite be a matter of life or death, on Tyneside it remains almost as important.
The only thing more unexpected than a Newcastle victory to seal their top-flight safety was to hear from Mike Ashley. For both to happen in the space of two hours provided a surreal end to another rollercoaster campaign on Tyneside.
The billionaire’s unexpected appearance on Sky Sports came with the promise of better times ahead, and the pledge that he will not sell up until there has been an addition to the St James’ Park trophy cabinet.
Before Moussa Sissoko rose between Winston Reid and Aaron Cresswell to head home a centre from Gutierrez nine minutes into the second-half to set the hosts en route to a deserved win, it was open season to insert your own punchline about that trophy most likely being next season’s Championship title.
After Vurnon Anita somehow spurned an Alamo-like advantage by gifting the ball to keeper Adrian as half the Newcastle team bore down on his goal, Gutierrez, in what’s likely to be his final appearance for the club with his contract set not to be renewed, made sure of a first victory since the end of February in a storybook finale.
The outpouring of emotion from the stands was matched only by that on the pitch as Gutierrez found the bottom corner with a deflected effort from 20 yards, tearing off his shirt to embark on a joyous celebration.
“To be honest, a few months ago, I didn’t know if I could be here again,” the 31-year-old said. “I’m here, I am enjoying playing football and happy to be given a second chance in life.”
John Carver may have a little more work to do before he can consider himself in the same category when it comes to the affections of fans. This was just a third victory in his turbulent 19-game reign, though the 50-year-old reiterated his desire to take on the role full-time, which remains highly unlikely given his woeful win ratio.
Six years ago, Newcastle’s ineptitude saw them condemned to the Championship as Hull survived. This time, the roles were reversed, as Steve Bruce’s side saw their two-year stay in the top flight ended. Newcastle even had the satisfaction of climbing above neighbours Sunderland as they earned Ashley another £5m in merit bonus payments by rising to 15th.
“I have every sympathy for Steve Bruce,” Carver said, dedicating the victory to Liam Sweeney and John Alder, the Newcastle supporters who died in the flight MH17 tragedy last year.
Carver added: “We can’t afford to get ourselves in this situation ever again. We all know we’ve made mistakes but Mike’s come out and said a lot of positive things and I’ve had assurances we’re going to spend money. The fans can look forward to players coming through the door this summer.”
Perhaps Ashley should conduct pre-match interviews more often if this is the outcome. He said: “Now [my intention] is definitely to win something — and I won’t be selling it until I do. The club is not for sale at any price. To be categorically clear, I am not going anywhere until we win something.”
It was a 12th away game in succession without a win for West Ham, who mistakenly confirmed the departure of Sam Allardyce during the game, his reign ended after four years due to disagreements with the club’s hierarchy over transfer policy.
Enner Valencia was denied an early penalty when felled in the area by the recalled Mike Williamson, while Stewart Downing ought to have scored when shooting straight at Tim Krul before the visitors faded badly after the interval.
“I’m leaving on a high,” Allardyce insisted. “That’s not in terms of today, but in terms of the last four years and what we’ve achieved.”
Krul 8; Janmaat 9 Coloccini 7, Williamson 7, Dummett 7; Sissoko 6, Colback 7, Anita 8 (Gouffran 89, 5), Gutierrez 9; Cisse 6, Riviere 6. Subs: R Taylor, de Jong, Gouffran, Perez, Cabella, Ameobi, Woodman.
Adrian 7; Jenkinson 6, Burke 6 (Tomkins 69, 5), Reid 5, Cresswell 5; Downing 5, Song 5, Kouyate 5 (Lee 77, 5), Nolan 5; Valencia 4 (Amalfitano 63, 5). Cole 5. Subs: Jarvis, Nene, O’Brien: Jaaskelainen. Booked: Amalfitano.
Referee: Martin Atkninson (W Yorkshire)