Early in April, just a few junctions up the M6 from The Hawthorns, Newcastle United's long-suffering supporters went home after a hard-earned 1-1 draw at Stoke believing that all might yet be well with their world.
Mike Ashley was preparing to sell the club; Alan Shearer, latest in a long line of messiahs, was in situ, and with three winnable home games remaining, relegation was surely just a bad dream. All of which suggests that the 3,000 believers who celebrated Saturday evening's point against West Bromwich Albion so raucously should not start counting chickens, or championships, quite yet.
True, Newcastle were able to field a side long on Premier League experience and their performance against one of the favourites for promotion was more coherent and more spirited than might have been expected from a team recently beaten 6-1 by Leyton Orient.
On the other hand, there was a young substitute goalkeeper and an alert referee's assistant to thank for preventing defeat on a ground where they managed one of only two away wins all last season.
Last April's revellers would also have been horrified to be told that, come the first Saturday of the new campaign, not only would they still be chanting "get out of our club" at the absent Ashley but, worse, Shearer would be sitting in a BBC box, not the dugout. Yesterday the suggestion emerged that Ashley might even hang on rather than selling cheaply and could offer the manager's position to either David O'Leary or last season's incumbent Joe Kinnear.
Chris Hughton, a decent man trying to make the best of a job – caretaker manager, he does not want – was honest enough to reflect the downside of the situation as well the positives. On the one hand: "Is this squad good enough to challenge? Yes it is." On the other: "What I'm also realistic enough to know is that at some stage we're going to pick up injuries. At some stage that will have to be addressed."
The glass is half-full: "I'm still hopeful that something will be sorted out and that new buyers come in at some stage." But it is also half-empty: "If you ask me if I know for sure, then absolutely I don't."
Hughton talked his way round suggestions that Joey Barton, a second-half substitute, had been left out of the side following an incident in training on Friday. Fortunately for both of them, there was a more heroic figure demanding attention in Tim Krul, the 21 year-old Dutchman who came on to make a series of outstanding saves after Steve Harper was injured (this being Newcastle, by a team-mate, Shola Ameobi) while failing to prevent Shelton Martis from jabbing in the opening goal.
Ameobi swung a leg to better effect in helping Kevin Nolan set up an equaliser for Damien Duff and in added time Albion's centre-half Jonas Olsson was rightly, if narrowly, given offside as he headed past Krul.
Before and during the game on the BBC, Shearer had criticised the "thin" squad's marking at set pieces and a lack of pace, creativity and balance.
Afterwards the programme fell off the air so quickly that there was no time for him to add any balance of his own in recognition of a useful point gained. Albion's Roberto di Matteo did so in acknowledging that he regarded Newcastle's team sheet as having "a lot of quality" while he still felt his new team "did enough to win", adding: "Their goalkeeper made some very fine saves to keep them in it. You kind of hope that the substitute keeper is not that good but he had a hell of an afternoon."
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Carson; Zuiverloon, Martis, Olsson, Cech; Brunt, Greening, Mulumbu, Koren (Dorrans, 72); Wood (Cox, 81), Moore. Substitutes not used: Kiely (gk), Barnett, Beattie, Reid, Teixeira.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Harper (Krul, h-t); R Taylor, S Taylor, Coloccini, Enrique; Duff, Smith, Nolan, Gutierrez; Ameobi (Ranger, 90), Carroll (Barton, 75). Substitutes not used: Xisco, Geremi, Lualua, Kadar.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: Newcastle Coloccini, Nolan.
Man of the match: Krul.
Attendance: 23,502.Reuse content