There will be no repeat of the trauma of four years ago for Newcastle United. The growing sense of sick panic was lanced last night with a 2-1 win at Loftus Road which moves them up to 41 points and ensures Premier League safety.
Newcastle probably could not have helped for more hospitable opponents than Queens Park Rangers. It was only their second away league win of the season but then they have waited all year to face opponents this poor.
So the dreaded drop has been averted and Newcastle have just managed to find a toe-hold on one of the bottom rungs of the Premier League ladder they were slipping down.
“I’m very pleased,” said a relieved Alan Pardew afterwards, “it was an important game for the football club – because of the extra money for staying in the Premier League - and massive for north-east football that we’re a Premier League team.”
It is a difficult feat this year but yesterday Rangers made Newcastle look like a model of cohesion, spirit and fluency. It was always possible that Rangers might play free from the fear of relegation that has been afflicting Newcastle. That seemed to be the case for about 10 minutes as Rangers started briskly and even went ahead through Loic Remy’s penalty, after Junior Hoillet was pulled back by Mathieu Debuchy.
But from then on they were abject, gifting Newcastle two goals and looking nearly as disjointed, muddled and incompetent as they have done all season.
“Once they scored we seemed to lose everything and we were very poor after that,” said Harry Redknapp afterwards, a man who knows this job is not going to get any easier.
Both Newcastle goals came from Jose Bosingwa errors and he was subject to relentless abuse from the stands. One season of frustration was poured out at Bosingwa – and Stephane Mbia – both seen as embodiments of the over-paid, under-motivated players who have taken Rangers back down into the Championship.
For Newcastle’s equaliser, Bosingwa needlessly pulled Hatem Ben Arfa and Lee Probert gave his second generous penalty of the afternoon. Ben Arfa smacked his kick into the top corner. That was bad but Newcastle’s second, on 34 minutes, was worse. Bosingwa underhit a backpass to Rob Green, Jonas Gutierrez charged down the kick and Yoann Gouffran hit into an empty net.
“He didn’t make mistakes purposefully, he just made a couple of errors which cost us a couple of goals,” said Redknapp, not the fiercest defence of a player he has ever mounted. “It wasn’t going to help anyone, you can’t play with that negativity around the place so I decided to change it.”
Even with their half-time substitutions, Rangers did not threaten much in the second half, even though Newcastle sat back and invited them to attack. Hoillet dragged one shot wide from the edge of the box while Andros Townsend dipped a shot just over the bar in the last minute.
It took the dismissal of Rob Elliot for handball outside the box – his second yellow card – with nine minutes left for Rangers to have much real pressure. Stephen Harper came on but did not have too much to do. Newcastle were only playing against their nerves but they managed to win out in the end and can finally relax.
“We have been playing with a noose around our next, it has felt so tense and tight,” Pardew admitted. “But on a difficult pitch we played well, with real determination and resilience.” Newcastle can now look back on a season where they should have built on last year’s hard work but nearly threw it all away.
“There is frustration with some of the injuries,” assessed Pardew, “no doubt the Europa League was an experience we’ll be better for, I made some errors and we didn’t have enough quality in depth. I will look at myself, look at my staff and make sure we’re better prepared next year.”
It will not be a fun summer for Pardew but Redknapp’s will be far harder. “It’s been a miserable season and that team today wouldn’t finish in the top half of the Championship,” he said. “That’s a fact. We’ve not got the quality, short of good players who can really play at the top level.”