A scoreline that looked acceptable to Newcastle United at about half past four yesterday afternoon had taken on a very different hue once full-time whistles blew some quarter of an hour later.
Late goals bringing Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic away victories left Alan Pardew’s side facing the possibility of dropping into the relegation places in midweek with only two matches left to play.
Newcastle’s are at Queens Park Rangers next weekend and then at home to Arsenal and they go into them having won one game in the past seven.
But the position could so easily have been worse. When a football match finally broke out here after a soporific first half, West Ham made the better of the chances by virtue of sending Matt Jarvis down the left flank to ping crosses towards the former Newcastle heroes Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan.
Against that, the visitors were convinced they had scored earlier amid one of the last such controversies before goalline technology comes into play next season.
In the only notable incident of the first half, Papiss Cissé believed his shot had crossed the line before the retreating West Ham defender Winston Reid hacked it away.
His manager, Alan Pardew, backed him up even before seeing any television replays, insisting: “We had a legitimate goal chalked off. It was in. I saw the linesman slip over and that worried me, whether he’d seen it. I asked him at half-time and he said he had.”
Pardew was bullish about the performance, claiming it “dispelled some of the stupid myths that there’s a lack of unity”. He did also give credit to Wigan for “a great win”, which unquestionably leaves his team worse off than at the start of play. Now, even more than usual, they are willing a Sunderland defeat tomorrow night.
With West Ham sitting comfortably in mid-table, their only target a commendable top ten finish, Sam Allardyce declined any opportunity to gloat at the club who sacked him by sending his assistant Neil McDonald to do media duty.
McDonald – a Geordie – felt “Newcastle were the better team first half, but all in all a draw was probably fair.”
It was a generous assessment, given that his goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen’s only saves were two comfortable catches.
The lack of many genuine scoring opportunities meant, however, that most interest centred on decisions by the officials. In the 21st minute Cissé made a fine run behind the defence onto Yohan Cabaye’s equally shrewd pass and slipped the ball beyond the onrushing goalkeeper. A stronger shot and there could have been no argument but Reid was able to hack it away.
Just before half-time, the other assistant’s flag was clearly up before Nolan, fed by Carroll, had the ball in the net. Only one other moment even roused the crowd, albeit to fury: Jonas Gutierrez went down in a heap with that yelp that so many players insist on these days, waited until West Ham had reluctantly put the ball out of play and then got up without so much as a limp. He fully deserved the talking to that the referee Phil Dowd administered.
Mercifully, a much better second half followed, in which Newcastle’s right-back Danny Simpson was in danger of being overwhelmed by the excellent Jarvis. As the winger put the crosses over, there were two confident shouts for penalties as Carroll and Ricardo Vaz Te were bundled over. The second incident still provided two opportunities to Nolan, blocked by Rob Elliot, who had recovered well form conceding six goals at home to Liverpool last week.
Carroll, being watched by the England coach Ray Lewington, produced a clever turn in front of his former Tyneside supporters to bring another save from Elliot and then had one of many headers blocked. At the other end, Jaaskelainen rushed rashly from his goal to inadvertently give a chance to Yoan Gouffran, but the angle was too awkward.
Newcastle’s task is difficult now. And their fate is for the first time out of their hands.
West Ham (4-4-1-1): Jaaskelainen; Demel (M Taylor, 80), Collins, Reid, O’Brien; Vaz Te (Collison, 58), Diamé, O’Neil, Jarvis (J Cole, 84); Nolan; Carroll.
Newcastle (4-2-3-1): Elliot; Simpson, S Taylor, Coloccini, Yanga-Mbiwa; Tioté, Gutierrez; Ben Arfa (S Ameobi, 65), Cabaye, Gouffran (Gosling, 76); Cissé.
Referee: Phil Dowd.
Man of the match: Jarvis (West Ham)
Match rating: 6/10