It has not been a very happy Christmas for Newcastle United. Gifted three points on Boxing Day when Stoke City had two men sent off in three minutes, they started 2014 with a second successive defeat. In truth they could have no arguments.
It was hard to agree with manager Alan Pardew’s assertion that they “controlled” the game when it was 11-a-side, but a moment of madness from Mathieu Debuchy gave West Bromwich Albion an advantage which even in their wasteful mood they could not turn down.
When Liam Ridgewell missed his side’s second sitter of the game with eight minutes to play, it looked like Newcastle might just escape with an undeserved point. Seeing Tim Krul avoid a card for tripping Matej Vydra in the penalty area four minutes from time might have encouraged the view that fortune was favouring the visitors – even Pardew conceded it was the heaviness of the substitute’s touch which saved his goalkeeper.
But Saido Berahinho’s penalty ensured both sides headed home with the points their performance deserved.
Newcastle started the game sluggishly and nothing the manager could say or do at half-time was able to turn the tide.
Morgan Amalfitano, brother of Magpies midfielder Romain, looked to have the beating of whoever he came up against in the first half, but had nobody to finish his work.
In the 12th minute he nutmegged Davide Santon very easily but his cross was so poor it might have dropped inside the far post had Tim Krul not been on his mettle. It was Fabricio Coloccini’s turn next, but having skipped past the Argentine, Amalfitano was unable to stop the ball running over the byline.
Cheick Tiote seemed to obstruct Amalfitano when he was the next person the on-loan Frenchman ran at but, yards away, the linesman was happy enough.
Amalfitano’s next two deliveries from the byline ought to have produced goals, or at least Krul saves. But given time to pick his spot, former Middlesbrough trainee Chris Brunt steered his header wide of the goal from 12 yards away.
With a minute left in the half, Ridgewell’s centre made its way to Amalfitano at the back post. He got to the byline and teed up a chance Nicolas Anelka somehow missed.
It was tempting to wonder why Amalfitano did not just go it alone, or it would have been had not his weak sixth-minute shot and a wild one nine minutes later shown why.
The Baggies had other chances, Stephane Sessegnon just failing to make contact with Ridgewell’s ball as he slid and stretched in, and Jonas Olsson heading wide under considerable pressure from Mike Williamson at a corner.
Newcastle had gone into the game in a 4-2-3-1, Yohan Cabaye playing deeper than normal as one of the holders. And whilst the movement of the three players behind Shola Ameobi was head-spinning at times, it amounted to next to nothing in a disappointing first 45 minutes.
It was 18 minutes before anyone in the Brazil strip even took a shot and when Loic Remy did, Anelka was a yard away to charge it down. Cabaye volleyed wide and hit a free-kick straight into the wall.
That apart the biggest threat to the West Brom back four was their goalkeeper, Ben Foster cleaning out Billy Jones as he came for a loose ball. The right-back saw out the half, but was not back for another.
Pardew brought on Hatem Ben Arfa at half-time to inject some je ne sais quoi but it was added time before he had his chance, and when Remy played him in the Frenchman’s heavy touch saw him run out of space and ideas.
The Magpies had restarted a little better, Tiote’s volley saved and Remy curling over, but the game never improved beyond stodgy. In the 63rd minute Debuchy opened it up with a poor challenge.
It won the ball, but from the moment Debuchy took off into a two-footed tackle it was only going to end one way. Claudio Yacob escaped serious injury but it was another reminder of the full-back’s reckless streak.
The red card was the third of his Newcastle career, with 16 bookings too from 35 appearances, and earned him a second suspension of the season.
The good news was that with Massadio Haidara fit again Newcastle are well equipped to cope without him for three games.
But Debuchy has been Newcastle’s star performer since October’s Wear-Tyne derby kicked their season into life, and his rashness came just as Coloccini was struggling with a knee injury.
Anelka forced a low save six minutes later but even with ten men the Magpies were hardly bombarded by their relegation-threatened hosts. Berahino had a shot blocked, while an off-balance Brunt fired wide.
That said, Ridgwell’s six-yard box miss before they finally found the net was a shocker.
Berahino’s half-time introduction had increased the Baggies’ threat, but they could have done with the roles being reversed when the England Under-21 striker crossed for Ridgewell.
It was hardly true to say the goal was coming, but given the gift of a penalty kick, Berahino was not about to turn it down, calmly and firmly placing the ball to Krul’s left to secure three points.