A night of nerves in Newcastle as city breathes sigh of relief at Wigan defeat to Swansea
Victory for Wigan would have put Newcastle in the relegation zone
A man with a slice of pizza hanging out of his mouth shouts in delight. It is muffled but the delight is clear. Around a Tyneside public house, fists are raised and involuntary roars are heard. Swansea City have just equalised. Wigan are drawing. Newcastle may yet end the evening outside of a relegation place.
The Shark Bar is glitzy and still fairly new to the Tyneside skyline, but close enough to hang in the shadow of St James' Park and still pumping with a black and white heartbeat. This was a night that could do more to allay fears of relegation to the Championship than anything the team has done since it scrambled to victory against Fulham, in the 93rd minute of a game on 7 April. Since then, a football club has gone into free fall and the mood of a city has darkened.
Alan Pardew is fighting for his future 12 months after he won two manager of the year awards. Newcastle may drop out of the Premier League. No one is quite sure how this has happened but, for an evening, everything centres on the DW Stadium. The maths are simple. If Wigan were to beat Swansea, Newcastle would drop into the bottom three of the Premier League for the first time since 2009. Then it ended in relegation.
In the Strawberry Pub, up the road from the Shark Club Gastro Bar (to give it its full title), and within staggering distance of the Gallowgate End, they have Newcastle's fixture list on a blackboard. The 3-0 defeat to Sunderland has been rubbed off. The scoreline for the 6-0 loss to Liverpool reads DNA (for Did Newcastle Appear?).
For the record, the Strawberry is once more the Strawberry. That feels telling. The La Fraise sign that was unfurled outside the famed public house opposite the ground has gone. In January, when it arrived, anything French was considered high fashion. A picture of it was tweeted. Newcastle fans laughed. They turned up in red, white and blue for the Southampton home game and despite Southampton's only French player scoring the first goal, won four-two. Tyneside was a lot more jolly then. Now it is in high panic. Sky Television cameras arrive at the Strawberry before kick-off. They find a group of six and track their movements during the entire game. A straggler to the left of the group who appears to have been drinking since the five French players arrived in January, swears repeatedly at the television.
James Terry, a Swansea fan working in Newcastle, watches and offers little hope. "I wouldn't put any money on us," he says. "We've had a great season but they're already on their holiday."
Then Wigan score in first half injury time. "F****** hell man!" screams one fan at the television. That is in the Strawberry. In the Shark Bar, Swansea equalise. Cheers come from all corners of the pub. James McCarthy restores the lead. It looks up, but then comes the equaliser from Itay Shechter and there is no holding back the delight. Tiendalli adds a third. This is beyond all hope.
Stevie Barber has seen Newcastle relegated twice in his time as a supporter. "This club puts you through the mill," he says. "I can't believe we're going through this again. It would have been huge to have gone into the bottom three. You have to hope there is enough fight now to stay up." Kevin Friend blows his whistle after nine minutes of injury time.
There are cheers. Shouts of 'get in' fill the Shark Bar. It is followed by exhalation. The city is tired. Tired of its football club, but not tired enough to stop caring.
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