Magpies begin season with draw at West Brom

West Brom 1 Newcastle 1
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The Independent Football

Newcastle provided some brief respite to their off-field troubles by coming from behind to earn a draw at West Brom on an emotional evening that paid tribute to the late Sir Bobby Robson.

A minute's applause reverberated around The Hawthorns prior to kick off as both clubs marked Robson's passing, with the former England manager spending six years at Albion and five at United during his established career.

A fixture that was played out among England's elite back in February provided an open and at times entertaining - if not enthralling - indication of how the two bookies' favourites for promotion will fare over the next nine months.

Centre-back Shelton Martis put Albion ahead shortly before the break, while Damien Duff's second-half strike ensured a much happier return to the West Midlands for the winger compared to May, when his own goal at Villa Park sent the Magpies down.

Yet if either side had brought their shooting boots on the opening day then the scoreline could have had a completely different look about it.

Magpies caretaker manager Chris Hughton will have been happy to get back to footballing matters with owner Mike Ashley struggling to find a buyer and the club's management situation in disarray, not to mention the lack of incoming players.

But Joey Barton's omission from Newcastle's starting XI was the big surprise before kick-off, with the midfielder only named among the substitutes following an alleged training ground bust-up with Hughton.

Chris Wood, making his full debut, started up front for Albion with £1.9million summer signing Simon Cox on the bench.

Both sides started brightly but it was Albion who should have grabbed the early breakthrough after just five minutes, unmarked Martis somehow side-footing his volley wide from seven yards.

Duff was next to inexplicably fire high and wide at the other end, before the lively Jonas Gutierrez headed a good opening straight at Scott Carson.

Chris Brunt and Luke Moore were threatening for Albion but, in truth, neither keeper had been forced to make a real save of note as half-time approached.

Yet, as a goalless interval loomed, Martis popped up to atone for his earlier miss.

Steve Harper could only parry Jonathan Greening's free-kick to Luke Moore, whose goalbound effort was blocked by team-mate Jonas Olsson but Martis was on hand to poke home from close range in the 39th minute.

Newcastle's fans won the half-time crossbar challenge, but their team's fortunes on the pitch did not look like improving as Harper was replaced in goal by Tim Krul after he picked up an injury during Albion's opener.

The substitute stopper immediately proved his worth, however, pulling out a great diving save to deny Robert Koren.

And with the Magpies looking threatening at the other end, Duff finished off good work between Shola Ameobi and Kevin Nolan to fire the visitors level in the 55th minute.

Wood should have put Albion back in front two minutes later but he could only blast over after Krul again did well to deny Koren.

The game became stretched as both sides started to show a lack of match fitness associated with the opening day.

The impressive Krul used his feet to deny Moore as the game approached the closing stages, while Nolan headed a great chance over at the other end.

Olsson then dramatically saw his header disallowed in injury time to leave both sides with a share of the spoils.

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