Newcastle and West Brom shared the spoils at The Hawthorns yesterday after dominating a half each in what was ultimately a tight affair.
United could and probably should have been out of sight by half-time but some poor finishing proved costly in a first-half dominated by the away side.
And in true United fashion that profligacy in front of goal came back to haunt us as the home side took control of the second period of the match resulting in a 64th minute equaliser for Billy Jones. Steve Clarke was clearly unhappy with his side at half-time and made some decisive changes in terms of formation and personnel and no doubt sent his side out with a rocket up their rear end following their first-half display, but Alan Pardew should have been prepared for that and could maybe have set his side up differently to deal with it.
Needing to make amends for the Tyne-Wear derby defeat last weekend, United started off brightly and soon grabbed the lead after Yohan Cabaye released Papiss Cisse who crossed for Yoan Gouffran to flick home a header after Ben Foster came off his line to clear a ball he was never likely to get anywhere near to.
It could have been more soon after when Gouffran released Steven Taylor who tried to lob the ball over the onrushing Foster only to find the West Brom goalkeeper equal to his effort this time.
West Brom looked shaky and very nearly became the architects of their own downfall when Jonas Olsson inexplicably passed the ball straight to Papiss Cisse who found himself through on goal only to see his effort go over after trying to chip Foster when perhaps a bit less finesse might have been required. A guilt-edged chance that should have been buried.
Moussa Sissoko, Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Debuchy also had efforts worthy of a brief mention but none of them really tested Ben Foster despite not being far away from finding the target and in the end the away side had to make do with just a one goal lead.
There was some controversy just before half-time as James Perch slid in to challenge a West Brom attacker. My own opinion is that there was nothing wrong with the tackle as Perch won the ball, his feet were on the floor and it wasn’t dangerous, but the referee didn’t see it that way and awarded a free-kick, which is fair enough but even live at full speed I could see it was inside the box so if the ref sees it as a foul then surely it should be a penalty? It wasn’t and for some unknown reason a free-kick was awarded just outside the box.
Half-time: West Brom 0-1 Newcastle
Steve Clarke shuffled the pack at the start of the second period and took off a defensive midfielder in the shape of Claudio Yacob and replaced him with a striker in the shape of Shane Long – a move that meant the home side would now be playing with three strikers on the pitch.
And the move worked. United had dominated things up until half-time but West Brom soon changed that as they pinned the away side back inside their own half, with Shane Long nearly getting on the end of a shot which was spilled by Rob Elliot but the former Charlton man eventually did enough to deny Long on the rebound.
Romelu Lukaku, who had been beasting our defenders all game due to his sheer size and athleticism, nearly found a leveller six minutes after the interval but his header from a corner rebounded off the crossbar before United managed to clear.
As the hour-mark passed it looked as though Newcastle might have managed to weather the storm but Billy Jones had other ideas and levelled the match on 64 minutes after being played in by Lukaku and finishing smartly past Elliot and Massadio Haidara who had tried to get back on the goal-line to clear. It was the 26-year-olds first Premier League goal.
West Brom continued to press but despite enjoying most of the possession and territory they failed to really create much. Rob Elliot had to be on hand to divert a James Morrison header over the crossbar but aside from that the Baggies failed to really test the United defence and goalkeeper.
Mind you the same can be said for United who failed to create a single chance in the second-half and in the end both sides had to settle for a point each along with an equal share of time dominated in the match. The phrase “a game of two halves” really did apply here, for both sides.
Full-time: West Brom 1-1 Newcastle
To be honest I’d have settled for a point before kick-off so I’m reasonably happy with the result overall, but it could and perhaps should have been three points but for some missed chances in that first-half.
The result looks worse because most of the teams around us won but I’m not overly bothered about them. To be honest, as a fan, is crowing about finishing 13th or 17th is hardly something to get excited about and all that matters is staying in the league after what has been a disastrous season. On that score, Wigan lost and Aston Villa still have to travel to Manchester United so we’re still six points clear of the drop zone which is now our ultimate aim for the season, so if you look at it like that we’re now a point closer to safety!
Howay the lads!
West Brom: Ben Foster; Billy Jones, Gareth McAuley, Jonas Olsson, Goran Popov; Graham Dorrans, Claudio Yacob, James Morrison, Chris Brunt; Marc-Antione Fortune, Romelu Lukaku
Subs: Boaz Myhill, Kemar Roofe, Markus Rosenberg, Steven Reid, Shane Long, Liam Ridgewell, Jerome Thomas
Newcastle: Rob Elliot; Mathieu Debuchy, Steven Taylor, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Massadio Haidara; James Perch, Yohan Cabaye; Yoan Gouffran, Moussa Sissoko, Jonas Gutierrez; Papiss Cisse
Subs: Steve Harper, Mike Williamson, Vurnon Anita, Dan Gosling, Hatem Ben Arfa, Adam Campbell, Shola Ameobi