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Danger averted at St James' Park, but for how long?
Newcastle United 0 West Ham United 0
WITH nine minutes remaining of the first half, a large banner mocking Joe Kinnear was unfurled on the lower tier of the Leazes End at a time when the Gallowgate demanded to know where the director of football's signings were.
The rain was falling, the afternoon's football was uninspiring and grumbles were growing as fans became more restless inside St James' Park. All this while key midfielder Yohan Cabaye was missing in action having refused to play ahead amid interest from Arsenal.
While all this was going on Alan Pardew, the Newcastle boss, was a permanent presence at the top of his technical area getting drenched in the Tyneside downpour. Once more the club seemed on the verge of a crisis, even if Kinnear was in France on his latest scouting mission.
A more spirited and promising second half display, even though opportunities in front of goal remained few and far between, meant danger was averted. The situation is unlikely to ease, though, until more new signings arrive and victories are achieved under the Mike Ashley-Kinnear regime.
West Ham United, managed by a man in Sam Allardyce who found how difficult it was to succeed at St James' Park, spoke about using the tension to their advantage beforehand. Such teamtalks will be a regular occurrence in the away dressing room in the weeks ahead.
The Hammers' Kevin Nolan, who experienced relegation, highs and lows as captain of the Magpies, said: “We spoke about Newcastle and what’s been happening here.
“I know, it’s always tough playing here as a Newcastle player if you’ve been kept quiet for 20 minutes or half an hour, the fans will start having a bit of a pop, but I thought they were absolutely fantastic for them on Saturday.
“They did stick behind them and they’re going to be needed because it’s been tough. It’s been tough for the fans, the team, the players and for Alan, so they need to stick behind them and then with them sticking behind them they’ll do OK. I’m sure they will be, because they’ve got enough talent in the squad.”
Pardew is in a difficult position. As manager he has to concentrate on team affairs while striking the right balance between keeping the supporters on his side and putting pressure on Kinnear to get the deals done.
If Cabaye, the subject of a £10m offer from Arsenal which is set to increase this week, was to leave before next Monday's transfer deadline then the squad will have been significantly weakened once more – and it showed against West Ham.
With the exception of the experienced Frenchman Yoan Gouffran, Newcastle's bench was full of largely inexperienced youngsters in the shape of Gael Bigirimana, Paul Dummett and Haris Vuckic. Even Sammy Ameobi and Dan Gosling hardly boast a glut of Premier League appearances.
Cabaye's departure would take the number of departures on a permanent basis since the end of last season to four. Only Loic Remy, on loan from Queens Park Rangers, has arrived and is yet to kick a ball through injury.
There has also been five younger players allowed to leave on loan, so numbers are extremely low, so options limited. That was largely why Newcastle could not seal the three points against West Ham.
Despite seeing Nolan waste a fantastic free header from Stewart Downing's cross, Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul was never seriously tested. Neither, though, was Jussi Jaaskelainen at the opposite end.
Some of the football was decent, with Vurnon Anita bright in the middle in the absence of Cabaye and Cheik Tiote, and Hatem Ben Arfa constantly probing without getting in behind the visitors defence, so there were positives.
But when the match could have been won, Newcastle could not take their improved second half display to the next level by clinching the winner – even if Gouffran's last minute gaffe could have done just that.
When Ameobi's cross from the left hit the inside of the far post, it rebounded to Gouffran standing unmarked inside the six yard box. He had the time to take a touch, but opted instinctively to shoot first time and his touch somehow took the ball over the bar.
Anita, Moussa Sissoko and Ameobi all hit the floor in disbelief and the final whistle soon followed. A point, after the 4-0 horror show at Manchester City, is not the worst result, but Newcastle need more than that from their home games.
“I thought we had the three points at the end, everybody did,” said Anita. “The ball came back to Yoan and he touched the ball wrong. Those things happen. We must learn and keep going.
“It was important we got a result. We improved a lot in the way we played, kept the ball, but we only got one point. We wanted three. But we must make sure we keep going like we did here and the points will come.”
There will be greater onus placed on Anita to live up to his £6.7m price-tag in his second season, particularly if Cabaye leaves in the coming days. The diminutive midfielder, however, does think the squad already has the talent to do well.
Knowing Fulham are up next this Saturday, he said: “Everybody is confident and good with each other. We all want to play. The second half we showed everybody that it is possible to get results also with this team. We must keep going.
“Next week is another home game for us to show what we can do. We need to win more games for the supporters, for ourselves, we need to get more points overall than we did last season. Just as importantly we have to play better football than last season too.”
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