When Loic Remy rolled the ball against Aston Villa’s post, it felt emblematic of another disappointing day at St James’s Park. Four minutes later he produced a shot which will hopefully signal a change in their end-of-season fortunes – but the cracks it papered over cannot be ignored.
Until Remy’s composed winner two minutes into added time, it appeared Newcastle United’s bluntness would hurt them once more.
With good movement and decent passing, the Magpies created 23 chances yesterday, but needed all of them to find the net.
It had been 450 depressingly goal-free minutes since the sale of Yohan Cabaye.
Surprisingly in the two games which book-ended Remy’s three-match suspension, they had plenty of creativity, but no killer instinct.
No wonder there was so much relief around Gallowgate when, for the first time in six weeks, the fans were treated to a home goal.
If keeping – or at least replacing – Cabaye was important to the Magpies in January, finding a goalscorer was their top priority.
They failed and have been paying the price since.
Remy is just that, but he is not Newcastle’s. He has been borrowed for a year from Queen’s Park Rangers and the chances are next season he will be playing for his fourth team in 20 months.
Besides, relying on one man to score your goals is never a good idea.
If Pardew was to follow through on his jokey suggestion not to play Remy in the last 11 matches of the season – to keep him out of sight of hungry suitors – it would be a very long end to the campaign indeed. He had better hope the Frenchman can stay fit and free of the rashness which caused him to miss the previous three games through suspension.
Perhaps Luuk de Jong can be the striker Newcastle need, but not yet as he works his way up to match-fitness. He, too, is only on loan, though he seems more enthusiastic about staying than Remy.
Papiss Cisse used to be that man but yesterday it was painful to see how short of confidence he now is.
Until latching on to a loose ball in the penalty area to end Newcastle’s five-match losing streak at almost the last possible moment, Remy looked hesitant in front of goal too.
It had taken the France striker all of two minutes to force Brad Guzan into a save. For all Newcastle’s opportunities, he would only make three more in the rest of the game.
One came eight minutes later. Paul Dummett crossed from the right and the ball fell nicely for Cisse to volley. In his debut season that would have been 1-0.
Instead, he took a touch and forced a save. The ball spilled in the direction of Mathieu Debuchy, but Nathan Baker beat him to it.
Pardew wrote in the programme he was looking forward to seeing two strikers in tandem, but it took him all of a quarter of the game to abandon the idea, switching to 4-1-4-1. Oddly, it was Cisse who moved to the wing, where he has never looked comfortable, rather than Remy, who can be dangerous from there.
After an encouraging start on the right, Moussa Sissoko moved inside and from there played an important role in what ought to have been the opening goal. His ball to Remy was beautifully measured. Again, a more confident Remy might have shot at the first opportunity but his greater patience served him well, as it did in the second period of added time too.
Remy teed up Cisse but, with Guzan stranded, he ballooned over the bar. It showed the Catch 22 situation Pardew has over the only centre-forward contracted to be back on Tyneside next season.
Leaving Cisse on the bench can only undermine his confidence but putting him on the field exposes him to misses which can do more harm still. There was almost another half-hour of football before he made way for de Jong, but there was an inevitability about it.
The Dutchman’s liveliness and his part in Remy’s shot against the post might leave Pardew little choice but to return Cisse to the sidelines at Hull City on Saturday.
De Jong robbed Ron Vlaar on the byline and square for Remy, who struck the upright.
Guzan having denied Remy minutes earlier, it seemed Newcastle were heading for another blank. With Villa dangerous on their occasional counter-attacks, they could even have taken the ultimate sucker punch.
In the first half Debuchy did well to stretch to Andreas Weimann’s cross and the returning Fabricio Coloccini slid in to stop Gabriel Agbonlahor running in on goal.
Mike Williamson’s excellent tackle prevented Christian Benteke going clean through after beating Cheick Tiote on one of the Ivorian’s more rash days.
In the end, though, Remy’s coolness in volleying a very late winner will ensure all that is forgotten.
Pardew’s team selection – with Dummett preferred to Davide Santon, who had a slight knee injury, and Hatem Ben Arfa not risked either – smacked of a manager looking to the future; as he should with his team locked into mid-table.
Dummett, the 22-year-old fringe player given Cabaye’s old job of taking all corners, at least brings an enthusiasm and vibrancy to a run-in threatening to be dreary. The early kick-off did not help, but apathy ruled St James’s for much of Sunday as all threats of boycotts proved idle.
Whatever he experiments with in the last 11 games of the season, though, Pardew’s team will only progress with the addition of two predators. It would be brilliant but surprising if Remy was one.