Newcastle United haven’t often been out-passed by Tony Pulis’ teams over the years
But they were taught a harsh footballing lesson by West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns yesterday.
For all McClaren’s positivity, the negatives outweigh the positives at the club, which is seemingly heading in one direction.Miles Starforth
And that says it all.
Nineteen games into the Steve McClaren era – and at the season’s halfway point – the club is third-bottom of the Premier League and two points adrift of safety.
Next up? Arsenal and Manchester United.
It could get a lot worse before it gets better.
Admittedly, Newcastle should have had a penalty – Aleksandar Mitrovic was pulled by Jonny Evans as he took a shot – but the team simply didn’t play well enough. Again.
As two days previously when United were beaten by Everton at St James’s Park, the best side won.
Karl Darlow’s fumble – the goalkeeper couldn’t stop Darren Fletcher’s 78th-minute header crossing the line – was unfortunate, but this defeat wasn’t his fault.
McClaren bullishly talked about his team’s “consistency” after the game.
Supporters, however, will argue that they have been consistently bad.
The club’s head coach also felt Newcastle, as against Everton, had simply been unlucky.
But you have to make your own luck in the Premier League.
And the verdict of the 2,700 travelling fans at The Hawthorns was damning.
Florian Thauvin was the first of the players to approach the away end to acknowledge their support after referee Mike Jones called time on the game, but the substitute was given a frosty reception.
Thauvin’s team-mates, having heard the reaction, quickly applauded before heading to the sanctuary of the dressing room.
Mitrovic, struggling with an ankle problem, had been passed fit to play on the eve of the game, but McClaren – who has surprisingly opted to name an unchanged starting XI given that his team had played less than 48 hours earlier – lost another player in the warm-up.
However, Rob Elliot, outstanding in recent weeks, felt unwell before the game, and Darlow started in his place.
And Darlow had to be alert on what was his Premier League debut.
It would turn out to be a baptism of fire for the 25-year-old, who spent last season on loan at former club Nottingham Forest.
West Brom quickly set about their visitors, and United captain Fabricio Coloccini stopped an early shot from James Morrison on the line.
Darlow pushed away another effort from James Morrison. There were chances for Moussa Sissoko and Georginio Wijnaldum at the other end of the pitch.
Sissoko – who had run from his own half – was denied by a last-ditch Gareth McAuley tackle, while Wijnaldum’s effort was stopped by Boaz Myhill.
McClaren lost Vurnon Anita to an injury – he was replaced by Cheick Tiote – and Newcastle again found themselves on the back foot as the half-time break neared, and Paul Dummett did well to block another shot from Fletcher. United were fortunate to get to the break with the score still goalless.
West Brom – who have rarely had more than 40% possession this season – had enjoyed 54% of the ball, and Tony Pulis’s side at least had a plan when they got into the final third of the pitch.
Too often, Newcastle simply ran out of ideas when they got close to goal.
McClaren sent out an unchanged side for the second half, and Dummett and Fabricio Coloccini went close from an Ayoze Perez corner.
Dummett’s header struck the crossbar, and Coloccini’s attempted backheel was stopped by Myhill.
Mitrovic, under pressure from Jonny Evans, should have done better in the 61st minute when a ball rolled to him in the box. The striker’s scuffed shot was cleared by Craig Dawson.
As bad as they had been, United had created chances.
But as on Boxing Day, they hadn’t taken them, and West Brom fought back, with Victor Anichebe hitting the crossbar with a header.
And their breakthrough wasn’t long in coming.
An unmarked Fletcher header a right-wing cross from Claudio Yacob downwards, and the ball squirmed under Darlow.
For all McClaren’s positivity, the negatives outweigh the positives at the club, which is seemingly heading in one direction.
And, sadly, it’s not up.