Newcastle’s decline this season has been so steep that Alan Pardew said that this dismal match was “definitely a step forward” for them.
This was not the type of game last year’s entertainers would have wanted to play in. It was barren of drama, chances or quality. But Newcastle had lost nine of their last 11 in the League, and will take any port in a storm.
“Coming here is a difficult place to come,” Pardew said afterwards. “We defended really well, a lot tighter as a team, it was definitely a step forward for us. It was a really solid performance. There was a lot of really tough play out there.”
Both sides were short in attack. Norwich City started with Grant Holt on the bench and spent the first hour wishing they had him up-front, so often did they launch aimless crosses for Newcastle to head away.
This was United’s first League game since Demba Ba joined Chelsea and it offered a worrying warning of just how much they will miss him. Papiss Cissé was restored to leading the line but he does not do much when he is not scoring goals, and was lonely and isolated all afternoon.
Keeping Fabricio Coloccini is the new priority. Pardew said afterwards that he will speak with his captain, who wants to return to Argentina, this week, hoping to “resolve the situation”, but would not be drawn any further.
Much of Newcastle’s decline this season is down to personnel. Ba is now at Chelsea, Yohan Cabaye came on in the second half yesterday after two months out with a groin injury and Hatem Ben Arfa has been missing recently too.
The replacements are just not at the same level. Gabriel Obertan on the right wing contributed just one shot straight at Mark Bunn in the 57 minutes before he was taken off. Sylvain Marveaux, an attacking midfielder, was quiet throughout. Jonas Gutierrez is a worker but not a wizard. Newcastle’s best first-half move ended with him controlling the ball with his hand. Mathieu Debuchy, an excellent player, was cautious on his debut.
Norwich were better, but only just. After four straight League losses, they lacked confidence and fluency as well as a target-man up front. Their best work was done on the break. In the first half Wes Hoolahan should have put them ahead but he took too long in front of goal and James Perch covered.
In the second half there were a few slim openings for Norwich but they lacked the movement and delivery to turn them into anything. Russell Martin hit the post from distance while Anthony Pilkington headed over in the closing seconds.
“I was pleased with some of our play,” Chris Hughton said afterwards, “but not our quality.”
Norwich (4-2-3-1): Bunn; Martin, Turner, Bassong, Garrido; Johnson, Tettey; Snodgrass (Bennett, 77), Hoolahan, Pilkington; Jackson (Holt, 68).
Newcastle (4-1-4-1): Krul; Debuchy, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon; Perch; Obertan (Cabaye, 57), Anita (Bigirimana, 84), Marveaux, Gutierrez; Cissé.
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Man of the match: Anita (Newcastle)
Match rating: 2/10