The deep cross from the right came over, Peter Crouch, who had been on the field for eight minutes, looped his header over Tim Krul and, despite the desperate efforts of Fabricio Coloccini, Stoke City had an equaliser. Then, thankfully, this game finished.
The word “justice” is bandied around in football and it is an unlikely virtue to hunt for, especially in the modern age of the game. But Mark Hughes, the Stoke manager, turned to it and you can understand why.
In the 71st minute of a mind-numbingly dull game, Newcastle United midfielder Jack Colback fouled Victor Moses. Colback had been booked for a foul in the first half; this looked like another yellow card and when Kevin Friend ignored that possibility there was simmering anger in the visiting dugout.
Three minutes later Colback took a lay-off from Moussa Sissoko on the edge of the Stoke penalty area and clipped a shot into the bottom corner of Asmir Begovic’s goal. Hughes and his staff raged.
“The referee wasn’t brave enough to send Colback off,” Hughes said. “Most people in the ground would say he shouldn’t have been on the pitch. It was clearly his second yellow card. You consider how easily the referee was giving cards out earlier in the game, for him not to give a second yellow, it’s a big oversight.
“It’s a key moment. They’re the ones that infuriate you as a manager when referees don’t get it right.”
He added: “I thought it was a good away performance. We dominated possession and in fairness we restricted Newcastle to a few counter-attacks. The disappointing thing today is their goal.”
In truth, neither side deserved three points – though Newcastle would surely have had them had Gabriel Obertan taken a golden opportunity four minutes from time rather than losing his nerve, and the ball, instead of shooting.
It would have been harsh on Stoke, who dominated possession but largely failed to test Krul. Both sides tested the patience of supporters.
You can never sniff at a crowd of 47,000, but the burning desire above everything at Newcastle to finish 10th does not sit well with the people of the region. A 5,000 drop in attendance is significant, no matter what the extenuating circumstances, most of which lie at the feet of the club: no ambition in January to sign players and no new manager.
A game of few chances was played against an icy and quiet backdrop. There was a Rémy Cabella header in the 10th minute, glancing a cross from Sissoko that Begovic did well to stop, but you were hunting for scraps after that.
Sammy Ameobi shot from distance for Newcastle, Jon Walters did the same for Stoke and shortly before half-time Ayoze Perez drilled an effort narrowly wide of Begovic’s far post. Krul was sharp and alert to fingertip a Mame Biram Diouf header from a Stephen Ireland cross to safety in first-half injury time.
The second half was somehow worse. Then came Colback’s crucial escape.
“I think the referee used his common sense,” argued John Carver, the interim Newcastle manager. “Jack’s not a nasty guy. He’s competitive, but it works both ways and I think one or two of those lads on the Stoke team got away with one or two things.
“Defensively we had been very sound. We shot ourselves in the foot at the end and I’m very disappointed.”
Most present were disappointed all afternoon.
Only following the introduction of Papiss Cissé in the 65th minute was there the suggestion of life in the home ranks. In the 73rd minute, two minutes after Colback’s second foul, Cissé headed a cross from fellow substitute Obertan wide of Begovic’s near post.
A minute later, Obertan’s low cross found Sissoko, he found Colback and the finish was neat and tidy.
As the final whistle approached, the former Manchester United winger should really have rounded off a home victory, taking a pass from Sissoko as Newcastle broke in numbers. He took a touch too many and the danger was cleared.
Then came the cross from Stoke’s Geoff Cameron, another substitute; Crouch looped his header well and neither Krul nor Coloccini could do anything to stop the late, late equaliser.
It meant Stoke ended the day two points better off than Newcastle and that is probably about right in the tepid struggle for 10th place.
Nothing will sting Newcastle fans more than that.Reuse content