IT was the kind of result which normally feels like a victory, Fabricio Coloccini heading an equaliser in the fourth of a minimum of four added minutes.
St James’ Park briefly went mental, but no one will have been kidding themselves.
As Jonás Gutiérrez gestured a touch too graphically, Newcastle United demonstrated they had big cojones. But they showed little else in another disappointing home performance.
Since Aston Villa were blown away, Newcastle have won one of six Premier League matches. They have picked up one point from their last three at home – all against teams they should expect to beat there.
Problems are emerging which need addressing before a good start to the season is squandered. Upton Park is not an ideal place to start.
The most painfully obvious is James Perch. Like many new to the Premier League, he is taking time to adjust. Perch helped Charles N’Zogbia score both Wigan’s goals, less than 100 seconds apart, by not getting close enough to the returning villain.
He was substituted after 89 jittery minutes, but a more ruthless manager might have told Perch not to come out for the second half.
Those who rush to judgement on players bedding into England’s top division often look foolish, but it seems only fair to take Perch out of the firing line. Hughton defended his summer signing by arguing he should be assessed over his whole eight-game Newcastle career but that is the point: this was by no means the first time he has looked ill at ease.
One hopes Hughton opts for the stop-gap option of Ryan Taylor – a player he appears lukewarm towards – rather than throw Danny Simpson into the fray early. Newcastle’s first-choice right-back has played only one reserve team game since last season and deserves time to rediscover his match fitness. It was not a luxury afforded to Danny Guthrie.
When Hatem Ben Arfa spectacularly found the Goodison Park net last month, Chris Hughton seemed to have hit on an ideal balance away from home. Without him, the team looks lop-sided. Wayne Routledge’s apparent crisis of confidence means Hughton has only one winger he can really trust. Gutiérrez rose to the occasion. His willingness to carry the ball is not always matched by an ability to release it effectively, but he created the goals to snatch an undeserved point.
Some tar all foreign footballers with the same mercenary brush but the way Gutiérrez and stand-in captain Coloccini celebrated a point highlighted two Argentineans fully committed to the cause.
Newcastle have already reverted to last season’s pre-Christmas tactic of hammering a square peg into the round hole on the right of midfield. It was hard not to feel sorry for Guthrie, shoved there one reserve game after picking up a pre-season injury.
If there are problems in defence and midfield, there are also concerns in attack.
With a court case looming and under the on-field scrutiny that comes when England expects, Andy Carroll has lost the early-season form he enjoyed when, beyond Newcastle, he was Andy Who? He has largely ploughed a lone furrow this season, though goalscorer Shola Ameobi did enough in half an hour to make the tactical decision to start with Peter Løvenkrands look wrong in hindsight.
Twice in the dying minutes, Carroll had the opportunity to paper over Newcastle’s cracks. He headed Joey Barton’s corner wide, then appeared unsure whether to control the midfielder’s dinked pass or shoot first time, stabbing wide with something halfway between the two.
A minute earlier he punched Gutiérrez’s cross from Ali Al Habsi’s grasp, ensuring Mike Williamson “goal” would be disallowed, but made amends by heading the winger’s corner to Coloccini, unmarked as Wigan players swarmed towards the striker.
Collective rather than individual failings put Newcastle on the backfoot, however. N’Zogbia’s first came when José Enrique could only deflect Franco Di Santo’s cross. Perch let N’Zogbia creep up on Williamson and the small winger out-jumped the giant centre-back to head in.
His second came when Cheik Tioté – way below his impressive previous performances, and fortunate not to be sent off for kicking out at James McCarthy – played a dangerous ball back to Barton, who dwelt on it.
Luckily for Wigan Mark Halsey did not penalise Barton’s attempt to rip the shirt off McCarthy’s back, allowing him to feed Di Santo. Perch was absent again when the cross came in and N’Zogbia’s volley beat Tim Krul.
The Newcastle fans came to boo the Frenchman, but ended up giving their own players the treatment at half-time. No amount of cheering at full-time could disguise that.