Common sense or anarchy? There were two ways of viewing the most controversial moment of a mildly entertaining but ultimately sterile night at The Hawthorns, which heartened West Bromwich Albion without significantly enhancing their survival prospects.
It came midway through the second period when Andy Johnson and Olivier Bernard challenged for a loose ball. Both players went high and both were hurt. The referee Neale Barry reached for his cards. Since Johnson had already been booked he was destined for dismissal, but after Albion players had surrounded Barry the referee put his cards away. "He said, 'It's two yellows', but he changed his mind for us," said Geoff Horsfield of Albion.
Following Mark Halsey's decision to revoke a penalty he awarded against Arsenal at Fulham earlier in the season, Barry's act revives the spectre of player power, but there was some merit in his decision. It was a borderline booking, perhaps determined partly because the game was becoming heated, but the consequences would have been unequal. "It was quite sensible of him," said Bryan Robson, the Albion manager. "The ball was there to be won."
Robson, a formidable warrior in his playing days, would certainly have gone for it. A quarter-century ago this month he was at the heart of an Albion team which rose to the summit of the English game playing some of the decade's most scintillating football. Fond hopes that his return to The Hawthorns would breathe life into Albion's moribund Premiership campaign are, however, ebbing away.
This was Albion's 10th game under his command but only their fourth point, the first on home ground in five attempts. There are, though, signs of hope, for next season if not this. Albion are unbeaten in three matches, a feat they last achieved in August. "We've got out of the habit of losing games," Robson said, "and that's the first clean sheet since I came to the club. That's something to build on."
Nevertheless Crystal Palace's afternoon success over Aston Villa means Albion are now five points adrift of safety - a daunting margin when you have only gained 13 points in 22 games all season.
They never looked like winning last night, although they might have snatched a lead when second-half chances fell to Horsfield and Robbie Earnshaw. On both occasions Shay Given saved.
Newcastle went closer. Within the first 10 minutes Titus Bramble had put a free header into Russell Hoult's arms, Lee Bowyer had volleyed over and Hoult denied Shola Ameobi. Bowyer then struck the post after 21 minutes, Hoult saving athletically as Laurent Robert followed up. But after that they struggled to penetrate. Souness, who had no complaint at Barry's change of heart, said: "We were not imaginative enough. After four games in eight days the sharpness was missing."
At the final whistle an image of Steve McQueen, from The Great Escape, was flashed onto the big screen. West Bromwich Albion are clinging to hope, but someone should remind them McQueen was swiftly recaptured.
West Bromwich Albion (4-3-3): Hoult; Albrechtsen, Purse, Clement, Robinson; Scimeca, Johnson, Wallwork; Horsfield, Kanu (Gera, 82), Earnshaw. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Contra, Gaardsoe, Koumas.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Taylor, Hughes, Bramble, Bernard; Bowyer, Jenas, N'Zogbia (Milner, 76), Dyer; Ameobi, Robert.
Substitutes not used: O'Brien, Harper, Ambrose, Brittain.
Referee: N Barry (North Lincolnshire).Reuse content