Newcastle United’s relegation worries deepened at the Britannia Stadium last night as Xherdan Shaqiri’s late goal inflicted a sixth successive away league defeat on Steve McClaren’s side.
Second-bottom Newcastle looked to be clinging on for the point that would have lifted them out of the bottom three but then Shaqiri picked up the ball 25 yards from goal and flashed a shot past Rob Elliot.
It was a spectacular strike – albeit Elliot’s feet did not move as the ball flew past him – and it was enough to secure a third straight victory for Stoke, lifting them to seventh place in the table.
For Newcastle, by contrast, last week’s break in the warmth of La Manga must have felt a distant memory already as cold reality set back in. They did not force a serious save out of home goalkeeper Jack Butland until injury time, when Butland did superbly well to get a hand to substitute Seydou Doumbia’s snapshot from captain Jonjo Shelvey’s low cross. As a consequence they remain second from bottom and the pressure on McClaren continues to grow, although he insisted he remained the right man for the job. “I don’t see any reason why not,” he said. “I am here to continue – there are 11 games to go and you saw tonight the reaction of the players during the last 18 days has been good. It is in our hands.
“I thought we were very organised and disciplined and stifled Stoke. They had one shot in the second half and it’s a goal.”
There had been a report on the BBC website in the lead-up to this match claiming to bust the myth that Stoke on a cold winter’s night was a daunting place for visiting teams to come. Elliot, the Newcastle goalkeeper, would beg to differ. In the first half he faced a succession of crosses in the wickedly swirling wind, one in particular from Erik Pieters which had him twisting backward to claw the ball away from beneath his crossbar. It was a bitter wind too: even the two topless Newcastle fans in the away section lasted only a quarter of an hour before covering up.
There has been little comfort for any travelling Geordies of late. Their team had scored just seven away goals this term – the worst away haul in the English league game –and last night brought no improvement. Only once in the first half did they get behind the home rearguard, when Moussa Sissoko broke on a diagonal run but Geoff Cameron got back to smother the danger.
The difficult conditions did not help either side in a dismal first half summed up when Shaqiri failed to complete a simple 10-yard pass to Marko Arnautovic, the ball rolling out of play. The second period brought no immediate improvement. Indeed it arguably got worse with the sight of Aleksandr Mitrovic rolling around on the turf in a shameful attempt to get Cameron sent off.
Until Mark Hughes, the home manager, sent on substitutes Peter Crouch and Mame Diouf, the makeshift Newcastle central defensive pairing of Steven Taylor and Jamaal Lascelles had looked quite comfortable but Diouf made a swift impact, laying the ball back for Shaqiri’s decisive effort.
“It is a great strike worthy to win any game,” said Hughes. “That is three wins on the bounce and we’re in seventh so we’re doing OK. It is important to get momentum at this time of year and it seems that we are.”
That was the cue for an incongruously exciting finish. First Butland foiled Doumbia before Arnautovic rattled the crossbar at the other end. “It’s a great save at the end,” Hughes said of the impressive Butland. “He didn’t have a great deal to do but it’s a sign of a good keeper is when you keep your concentration high.”