Newcastle 1 West Brom 0 Saturday 6 February 3pm
Goals: Mitrovic 32
To call this a must-win game would have been a massive understatement.
I feel that I’ve written that with unacceptable regularity this year, but it’s a statement that grows more pertinent as the season progresses.
To recap, we now find ourselves facing an ominous few weeks. A difficult trip to Chelsea is followed by an enforced 18 day lay-off before another unpalatable journey to Stoke. The fact that we will at least begin this process hovering above the relegation line thanks to this result is at least of some consolation.
To be fair, this was a good solid performance with an encouraging home debut for Townsend and further positive signs from Shelvey. The fact 90 minutes of total dominance brought the narrowest of wins is less of a cause for optimism.
United looked superior from the off against a rotten Baggies side, with Townsend almost off to a dream start, testing Ben Foster from distance after only 5 minutes. Foster then did brilliantly to block from Mitrovic at close range, but again this prompted early concerns over our inconsistent finishing.
The breakthrough did come just after the half hour, but it was preempted by astonishing scenes. Many would have bet against ever seeing Check Tiote in a Newcastle shirt again, but he was given an unexpected start in lieu of Colback’s injury. I’m glad he was too, as I thought the lad was magnificent, getting into everything and bossing the midfield like the Tiote of old. He even managed a shot on target. In fact he wellied in a magnificent strike that beat Foster all ends up, then you couldn’t make up what happened next.
It was identical in every way to the ‘questionably’ disallowed goal v Man City last year. A delirious Tiote ran to the dugout in celebration; no signal was given by the ref or linesman and whingeing whining opposition players surrounded the officials. After a WBA-promoted inquest it was deemed that the goal be chalked off, as an offside Newcastle player (Mitrovic) has distracted Foster’s view. Miserable stuff.
I wonder if this would have been more of a contentious issue had it not been swiftly followed up by an actual opener. Again Shelvey played a magnificent killer ball through to put Mitrovic one on one with the keeper. This was the sort of situation that has ended badly in recent times but Mitrovic kept his cool to slot in and send raucous cheers of relief echoing around the ground.
The lead was the least United deserved as a good team performance was complemented by some notable individual showings. I had some misgivings about Aarons at left back but he was assured throughout, at one point flattening the colossal Anichebe and later comedically introducing ex-Mackem Craig Gardner to the Gallowgate advertising hoardings with a satisfying whack.
Steven Taylor also made a solid return to the team, settling fraying nerves as the game went on by unflinchingly thumping away WBA counter attacks, often with little regard for his own personal safety. A courageous block from McClean (ex-mackems everywhere) was the pick and a timely reminder of the positive side of Taylor’s game.
The downside to all this was our failure to increase the lead beyond doubt. Townsend cracked a post, Sissoko shot wide of the target when well placed and Mitrovic failed to connect with Janmaat’s brilliantly played ball across goal.
With West Brom having introduced portly Toon target Saido Berahinho at half time you had to worry about a smash and grab. This very nearly came to pass as well as United were caught napping on the break in injury time and Rondon’s centre looked destined for Berahinho to tap in at the far post. Janmaat’s brilliant intervention could be one of the most vital moments of the season.
Relief indeed as many positives emerged. However, I have to be cautiously pessimistic here as we have been on this ride before. I don’t think it’s being excessively negative to say that we may very well see a return to the sort of shoddy excuse for a performance trotted out at Everton when we resume at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening. While Chelsea is a difficult trip in spite of their unspectacular season, I would hope at least for signs of the performance today to continue momentum.
If this kind of showing can be maintained we have four more home games against lower table sides (I include free falling Crystal Palace with Bournemouth, Sunderland and Swansea) that are – once again – must win matches.
This would surely give a basis for a less fraught finish to the season and give this team a chance to grow and impress.
For that to even begin they must find that elusive consistency.
Here are the stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 1 West Brom 0
Goals: Mitrovic 32
Possession was Newcastle 69% West Brom 31%
Total shots were Newcastle 19 and West Brom 7
Shots on target were Newcastle 7 and West Brom 0
Corners were Newcastle 8 and West Brom 4
Team: Elliot, Janmaat, Coloccini, Taylor, Aarons, Shelvey (Saivet 90), Sissoko, Tiote, Wijnaldum, Townsend (Perez 88), Mitrovic
Unused Subs: Darlow, Gobson, Williams, Barlaser, Doumbia
Ref: Lee Mason