NEWCASTLE United may have been the best team in the Championship last season, but they never managed to look it whenever they came up against the side which followed them back to the Premier League.
In three meetings, Newcastle failed to beat West Bromwich Albion and the Baggies still feel aggrieved at having to share the spoils in both league matches after enjoying the better of both tussles.
A 4-2 FA Cup victory back in January still gave them the edge last term and their quick passing style was once again too much for Newcastle to handle yesterday as they secured a victory which means Chris Hughton’s side have not won any of their last five games.
A brave draw against Chelsea ensures it is not quite as bad as that raw statistic sounds, but there is something worrying about the lack of resolve on their travels.
To make matters worse, they are becoming increasingly predictable as an offensive force, over-reliant on Andy Carroll and unable to stretch teams enough down either flank, with a midfield deprived of creativity in its centre.
United began slowly and spent most of the first half going backwards.
While they improved in the second half they were vulnerable on the counter-attack and were ultimately killed off on it.
For 20 minutes, the Magpies rarely got the ball out of their own half as the midfield failed to get a foot on the ball and the strikers failed to make anything stick up front whenever the defence launched a ball forward in the vague hope of relieving the pressure.
If the performance at Bolton was diabolical, this was almost as bad. The only saving grace was that, for all of their possession, West Brom only had one goal to show for it when the teams headed off at half-time.
Indeed, while it may have been one- way traffic, the United defence held its line fairly well. Paul Scharner had the home side’s first sight of goal after 12 minutes with a corner which flew well over the bar.
Peter Odemwingie had the next one just under ten minutes later, but the Nigerian, under pressure from three defenders, dragged an effort wide of the target.
Newcastle gave the impression they had weathered the storm and, had Steven Taylor made a proper connection with a shot on the turn after Carroll’s overhead kick had fallen kindly, the Magpies might have taken an undeserved lead.
That half chance came from a corner and Newcastle had another moments later, only for Shola Ameobi to head over despite getting a clear run and jump on the ball.
That was as good as it got and the Baggies finally made the breakthrough just after the half hour mark. Jonás Gutiérrez wimped out of a tackle with Chris Brunt and when he fed Somen Tchoyi, the winger curled the ball past Tim Krul.
Jerome Thomas was in an offside position, and may have impeded the goalkeeper’s view of the shot, but it was clutching at straws to say it should not have stood. Krul just about kept out another Tchoyi effort at his near post, but Newcastle were in desperate need of a re-think at half-time as Ameobi, Gutiérrez, Danny Guthrie and Wayne Routledge were passengers at best in the opening 45 minutes.
Ameobi was replaced at half-time by Peter Løvenkrands and it was Routledge and Guthrie who combined to create United’s best chance of the game, the former’s deep cross finding Taylor, but his firm header was well saved by Scott Carson.
West Brom responded immediately and Krul was extremely fortunate Scharner decided to hit a volley first time over the bar after he had completely misjudged a corner.
Newcastle were gradually getting a foothold and for the first time West Brom began to look vulnerable. Jonas was unfortunate to see a shot deflect off Carson before it was hooked off the line by Marek Cech and Carson was needed again minutes later, this time to tip a Jonas cross away as Løvenkrands prepared to head home.
Disaster followed. When Guthrie lost possession, Odemwingie was able to steal it from him with both Newcastle centre-backs slightly out of possession. Sol Campbell and Taylor should have snuffed out the danger, but the striker planted a low shot beyond Krul’s out-stretched hand. The sucker-punch knocked the stuffing out of Hughton’s side, although Guthrie was in agony with a serious ankle injury sustained as he stretched to try and retrieve the ball.
United’s misery was completed when Odemwingie passed the ball into the empty net as Enrique’s slid in to try and clear. Løvenkrands’ shot from close range, after Carson had saved from Carroll, was nothing more than a meaningless consolation.