Media predictions of where Newcastle United will finish the season have ranged from top of the Championship to 20th, which if nothing else reflects what an eternally mystifying entity the club are.
West Bromwich Albion, who accompanied them down from the big time in May, are more consistently fancied to be among the front runners, so an away draw with them yesterday evening was not to be sniffed at. It was just about a fair result, even if Tim Krul, the visitors' substitute goalkeeper, had to make four saves in the second half that varied from good to outstanding.
He had been summoned at the interval after Steve Harper was injured by a team-mate trying to prevent Albion's opening goal – the latest example of self-inflicted Geordie wounds.
Nobody appears any the wiser about the club's immediate future. The captain, Steven Taylor, had said on the eve of the game that "the club is a joke" and "the players haven't got a clue what is going on". Alan Shearer was unable to enlighten them after watching the match as a TV pundit rather than the manager whom players and supporters seem to want despite taking only five points from his eight games in charge at the end of last season.
It took only 11 minutes for the visiting hordes in a near-capacity crowd to chant his name. "I want it sorted either way, because of my love for the football club," he said earlier. "I'd dearly love the chance to finish what I started last season, which was very disappointing. Newcastle's squad was thin last season, and when you consider the players who have gone out, that tells a story."
If and when local businessman Barry Moat completes his potential takeover from Mike Ashley, Shearer is expected to be appointed although, to add to the bewilderment, Joe Kinnear and David O'Leary claim to have been offered the job this summer. Chris Hughton has the unenviable task of holding the fort – without a Moat – and Newcastle are the only League club not to have signed a single player.
All of which was put into some sort of perspective by the minute's applause before kick-off for Sir Bobby Robson who, as well as meaning so much to Tyneside, won his first England caps as an Albion player.
The goal with which West Bromwich went ahead after 39 minutes came from only the second real chance of the game. The centre-half Shelton Martis had completely miscued the first one but he reacted fastest after Harper pushed out Jonathan Greening's free-kick for Luke Moore to drive back into the six-yard box.
The goalkeeper, having taken a kick in the head from Shola Ameobi, went to hospital as a precaution and his replacement Krul endured a far busier 45 minutes, starting with a superb low stop from Robert Koren.
Meanwhile Shearer was telling BBC viewers that Newcastle lacked pace, creativity and midfield players breaking into the penalty area. Kevin Nolan, whom he mentioned, soon did just that and an equalising goal resulted. Ameobi set him up for a thoughtful square pass to Damien Duff, who finished smartly.
Even then, in what had become a much livelier game, Newcastle might have conceded within minutes. Koren burst through the centre and although Krul saved well with his left hand, Chris Wood should have buried the rebound instead of shooting wildly.
Joey Barton and Albion's Graham Dorrans joined the fray, each making a notable contribution. Barton placed a free-kick perfectly for the unmarked Nolan to head wide. Krul then somehow touched Dorrans' fierce drive for a corner and was relieved to see an offside decision correctly given as Jonas Olsson headed Greening's free-kick past him in added time.
Hughton did not deny that Barton had been involved in an altercation at the training ground on Friday. He said of the game: "We knew it would be tough so to get a point is very pleasing." Di Matteo said: "You hope the substitute goalkeeper is not that good."Reuse content