At the end of a bruising week, Steve Bruce acknowledged it was imperative he found a way to stop the bleeding. For Bruce, who spent the last few days attempting to extinguish the flames from a leaked training-ground spat with Matt Ritchie, avoiding defeat courtesy of a humdrum display may have been sufficient but a goalless draw extended Newcastle’s sorry to run to two wins from their past 18 matches in all competitions. For West Brom, who remain ensconced in the bottom three and eight points adrift of the last safe spot, this represented another opportunity missed.
Ritchie was among the substitutes here as Bruce made three changes from last weekend’s draw at home to Wolves but this was a grey performance that will have done little to appease a disillusioned fan base, with the second half fare particularly uninspiring. “We are disappointed not to win but the one thing that was vitally important was that we didn’t get beat,” Bruce said. “With the problems we have had, that have been pretty evident over the last five or six days, and the injuries at the top end of the pitch, it was always going to be pretty difficult. We’ve got a point and we move on.”
Newcastle’s trip to Fulham on the final day of the season seems to grow in significance with every game. Joelinton led the line admirably but worryingly, with three league goals to his name, the last of which came in November, was the leading scorer in the Newcastle starting lineup. Unsurprisingly, Newcastle struggled to test Sam Johnstone and, aside from a first-time Jonjo Shelvey strike from a corner and a thrashed effort by Joe Willock from the angle, the West Brom goalkeeper enjoyed a leisurely, if frustrating, afternoon.
Sam Allardyce takes his team to another former club, Crystal Palace, next weekend, but knows West Brom are running out of time to survive. “It means we have to win the next game to stay alive,” Allardyce said, asked to put this result into context.
Joelinton, in fairness, had a good game but the striker always looked more comfortable bringing others into play than when bearing down on goal himself. He sent a tame shot dribbling towards Johnstone’s near post with 20 minutes to go but would have presented Ryan Fraser with an early tap-in, only for Kyle Bartley to intercept expertly. Joelinton switched on the afterburners to tear through on goal after being slipped in by Willock but unselfishly – and perhaps owing to a lack of confidence – attempted to square the ball for Fraser. On the touchline, Bruce threw up his right arm in frustration.
Allardyce spent the entire first half seemingly shielding in the home dugout, legs crossed, arms folded, chewing vigorously. He watched Matheus Pereira spurn a sight of goal when the winger arrived on the penalty spot unmarked to skew Conor Townsend’s cross wide and the West Brom full-back was the source of much of the hosts’ enterprise. Mbaye Diagne sent a volley over after Bartley beat three Newcastle defenders to flick on a Darnell Furlong long throw but nine minutes into the second half Matt Phillips passed up arguably the best chance of the bunch, blazing over under pressure from Jamaal Lascelles after meeting Townsend’s low cross inside the box.
At that moment Allardyce erupted into an explosion of expletives but struck a more philosophical tone post-match. “I sound like a record that is stuck because I look back at the chances we have missed in the last four or five games, and I can’t knock the lads too much because of all the effort they have put in, but it’s a big disappointment that we haven’t finished Newcastle off,” he said. “We have started to master the defensive side of it but in the final third we are not finishing well enough. We’ve slipped up so many times in terms of not converting our performance into three points.”
Newcastle were constrained to half-chances by a mean West Brom defence that has kept three successive clean sheets. Shelvey appeared subdued and was too often bypassed in midfield but sent a shot at Johnstone from a short corner, via Phillips’ knee, and the West Brom goalkeeper later repelled Willock’s billowing strike.
Dwight Gayle arrived approaching the hour mark but was starved of service and Andy Carroll replaced Fraser with seconds to play but Newcastle, this time at least, came away unscathed. “It was important we didn’t lose here,” Bruce said. “We will take a point and move on to next week.”