By the end, in fact, it was Kevin Keegan's men who were hanging on, grateful for a point against a Nottingham Forest side who began the match propping up the Premiership.
The barren scoreline was the first featuring Newcastle in more than 70 games, stretching back to April last year - at Manchester City of all places. It had the effect of leaving last season's runners-up five points behind the leaders, Arsenal, with a game in hand, although they have not won in the League since 3 November.
Forest, without a home victory all season, came tantalisingly close to recording their first win since the opening day. Twice in the closing minutes Ian Woan spurned chances to break the spell. They will take some pleasure from clambering over Coventry, as well as from a battling display, yet their manager Frank Clark was inclined to see it as two points lost as much as one gained.
In contrast, Clark's home-town team could derive scant satisfaction from the evening. In theory, the return of Les Ferdinand to partner Alan Shearer should have given Newcastle sufficient cutting edge to finish off Forest.
Ferdinand was the more menacing, with Shearer allowed only one opportunity to set a Premier League record of scoring in seven successive fixtures. Forest, however, must have expected to come under more concerted pressure.
Peter Beardsley failed to conjure his customary creativity; Robert Lee was industrious but seldom influential. It fell to David Ginola, wide on the left, to provide the greatest danger to Mark Crossley's goal, but the more serious threat to the stalemate stemmed from the Frenchman's opposite number.
Chris Allen, the former Oxford United winger, showed as early as the seventh minute that he had the beating of Steve Watson for pace. On that occasion, Alf Inge Haland skied the ball into the Trent End, but Allen, who must be as quick as any player in the Premiership, kept coming back for more.
Ferdinand sent a glancing header wide, but the first half was a non-event compared with what was to follow. Twenty seconds after the re-start, Colin Cooper's pass towards Allen panicked Watson into heading across the face of his own area. Dean Saunders, with a lack of confidence which is sadly characteristic of Forest this season, could only strike the loose ball with his shin, allowing Pavel Srnicek to parry.
The incident stirred the crowd and that, in turn, fired up Forest. Nevertheless, Newcastle ought to have broken the deadlock just before the hour. Ferdinand powered past Steve Chettle and, with Shearer providing a decoy, played Keith Gillespie in on his right. Although Crossley beat out the shot, Shearer's follow-up was goalbound until it thudded into Chettle's thigh.
Remarkably, Forest responded to their escape by laying siege to Srnicek in the final stages. Haland, as diligent on the right as Allen was dynamic on the left, sent an 82nd-minute drive against the upright with the goalkeeper a spectator. Woan blazed the rebound over the bar and then missed from close range two minutes later, leaving Newcastle mightily relieved and the home support unsure whether to laugh or cry.
Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley; Lyttle, Cooper, Chettle, Pearce; Haland, Phillips, Woan, Allen; Saunders, Campbell. Substitutes not used: J Lee, Howe, Roy, Walker, Fettis (gk).
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Srnicek; Watson, Peacock, Albert, Elliott; Gillespie, R Lee, Beardsley, Ginola; Ferdinand, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Barton, Brayson, Clark, Kitson, Hislop (gk).
Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill).