There wasn’t a goal. In truth there was very little in the way of meaningful action, but one point for Newcastle United, proved several more points for beleaguered head coach Steve Bruce. His team staunched the West Bromwich Albion revival and for all the dearth of craft and quality, even the legions lined up against Bruce would struggle to claim his players gave anything less than their all. But this was woeful fare.
“It’s evident that today we go a point because of our togetherness,” declared Bruce. “We did lack quality, but we rolled our sleeves up and our attitude saw us to that point.”
For all Albion manager Sam Allardyce’s protestations of a too-arduous schedule, he fielded the same starting XI for the third time in a week and would not introduce a substitute until the 83rd minute. Albion remain nine points behind Newcastle and eight adrift of 17th place Brighton & Hove Albion. West Brom too could not be faulted for effort, but they too lacked almost everything else.
“We have given ourselves a platform to win games with our defensive side,” said Allardyce. “I know I sound like a stick record, but missed chances are stopping us winning. You need your finishers to show their quality and put the ball in the back of the net, but it never happened. Saving ourselves is a big task now.”
After eight days of rest, albeit contentious rest, Newcastle were short of creative attacking options, Callum Wilson being joined on the treatment table by Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron. Matt Ritchie, whose antipathy towards Bruce expressed itself when Newcastle did actually train last week, remained unused on the bench.
If Albion’s toils are hardly a surprise, neither is it that Newcastle’s take place against a backdrop of drama and intrigue worthy of a dysfunctional 15th Century Italian city-state. The bungled takeovers, inflated supporter expectations, a manager as lightning conductor, strikers who struggle to strike and the standard Newcastle mix of wretched displays entwined with signs of potential better times notwithstanding, they are once-again under-performing.
Albion were how they tend to be, long on blood and thunder, short on quality. Newcastle, as is their way, were a similar but more complex proposition. Little Ryan Fraser offered a wide outlet; the intermittently imperious Jonjo Shelvey had the inclination to find him and Paul Dummett passed the commitment test with a flying, perfectly judged 13th minute tackle on Ashley Maitland-Niles, through on goal alone.
By then, Newcastle ought to have been ahead. Joe Willock strode forth unchallenged and released Joelinton who hurtled towards goal with surprising intent. Picked ahead of Dwight Gayle and Andy Carroll so Bruce could retain his team shape, the forward without a goal since November squared rather than shot and Darnell Furlong cleared ahead of Fraser.
Predictably, though, without a breakthrough, the contest between teams without confidence turned scrappy. Albion had their own struggling striker in the blue-haired Mbaye Diagne, and he missed their best chance of the first half when Kyle Bartley nodded on Furlong’s long throw. Six yards out, the Senegalese, scorer of one goal since being loaned from Galatasaray, blazed high and wide. In the second half he would top that, missing his kick completely when Maitland-Niles cut back from the byline.
Slowly, though, the game began to prise itself open and playing with an exuberance that belied the slog around him, Willock was Newcastle’s best hope of creating something for Newcastle. Yet even he struggled to find a teammate on his wavelength after Shelvey retreated into defensive cover, as Albion lumbered unspectacularly forwards in search of the winner that would never come.
A good point for Newcastle?
FT: West Brom 0 Newcastle 0
Well, after the tumult of their preparation and injuries to key players, I guess Newcastle will take that. They leave with their pride in tact and the gap to the relegation zone still at three points. A draw was a fair result in a game of few chances. A good result for Fulham, though they have Liverpool away to negotiate in just a few minutes.
Yokuslu takes on a ridiculous shot from distance that flies over the bar. Andy Carroll is coming on for the final 30 seconds. Lets hope he has an appearance bonus.
The West Brom corner drifted aimlessly behind for a Newcastle goal kick.
That was much better. Patient football from West Brom around the edge of the box, waiting for the overlap of Townsend who ran off the back of Gayle. His cross was hooked away but West Brom sustain the attack and win a corner after Gallagher's drive is deflected behind. Three minutes of stoppage time awarded.
Newcastle finally produce some form of attack but Joelinton loses his picture after a run into the penalty area and his pull-back is straight to a West Brom player. Rather sums up the afternoon. Newcastle have a free-kick deep in their half.
West Brom seeing most of the ball now, but the play has stopped after Hayden goes down with a head injury.
West Brom building pressure now with another corner, but this one comes to nothing despite Dubravka not getting there. Subs on the way: Robson-Kanu and Grant replace Phillips and Diagne.
Wonderful inswinging delivery from Gallagher and the ball glanced off both Shelvey and Diagne's head and flew wide. A few gasps from the few dozen or so people at the Hawthorns.
The onus is on West Brom to push for a goal, and they have a corner after Furlong's cross deflects behind. Pereira's corner is driven in and Dubravka has to tip it behind. Another corner on the way.
The flag goes up against Diagne who failed to get himself back onside. Hard to see where the next big chance is going to come from. For Bruce, this looks a professional performance if you nick the late goal but if you don't...you are open to criticism.
Really good play from Maitland-Niles down the right, leaving Dummett for dead to get to the by-line but his pull-back was just behind Diagne.
Newcastle starting to enjoy some better quality possession in the West Brom half, Yokuslu gets himself in a good position to defend a cross.
Then West Brom respond with an attack of their own but two Pereira crosses are met by a Newcastle player.
Joelinton and Willock try to find a yard in the penalty area but their control and awareness in tight spaces lets them down. The game is grinding towards a conclusion that feels increasingly inevitable..
Lascelles meets a West Brom punt into the box with a booming header clear. Townsend with a another good cross but Diagne could not quite rise high enough. He looks the most likely player on the pitch to score, good at creating separation with his markers.
That Willock chance
Gallagher tries to float a cross towards Diagne and Bartley at the back post but gets too much on it. West Brom have had the fewest shots on target in the Premier League this season with just 76.
West Brom aggrieved not to get a corner after Clark got a foot in against Diagne in the box. Good ball recovery from Yokuslu in the middle of the park but again West Brom's delivery from wide lets them down.
Then Newcastle break and Willock drives a shot to the near post that Johnstone beats behind for a corner. Headed over by Clark. Newcastle needed better movement around Willock there, he did not have enough options.
Dwight Gayle is getting ready to come on for Newcastle. Not a great surprise - they have faded out of this game as an attacking force after those threatening breaks early on. The striker replaces Hendrick which is a positive move.
What a chance for Phillips! West Brom kept the move alive after a Gallagher shot was blocked and Townsend pulled a low cross back behind the Newcastle defence for Phillips, but he was leaning back and his left-foot shot flew over.
Lovely touch from Diagne to free Pereira down the right, he twisted and turned trying to get a shot off but Newcastle slowed him down. The ball was laid back to Yokuslu but his strike was deflected behind. West Brom play the corner short but Dummett gets up well to head clear.
Good link play from Joelinton again after spinning into the left channel. Johnstone does well to come off his line and punch a cross clear. The second half has been a continuation of the first: lots of graft but not much guile.
Shelvey has been diligent in his defensive work today, which is sometimes a question mark over him. Maitland-Niles lets the ball run looking to play a one-two with Diagne but the move does not come off.
We're back under way!
Can either side throw off the shackles?
HT: West Brom 0 Newcastle 0
A tight game as we expected. There was a surprising amount of space on the counter for both teams in the first 15 minutes, but things have tightened up since. Diagne and Joelinton have both carried a threat but need more service. All to play for in the second half.
West Brom making in-roads down their left again, but Lascelles defends well in the area against Periera. The Maitland-Niles tries to one-two his way into the penalty area but all a little too intricate.
Phillips teased a lovely ball across the area after good play from Gallagher but nobody was running in behind Diagne at the back post to tap it in.
Lascelles tries a bog switch of play but the ball flies out of play. Newcastle have been fractionally more dangerous that West Brom but their final pass has let them down.
West Brom then enjoy a good spell of possession and pressure in the Newcastle half but a telling pass or cross evades them. Finally, Townsend delivers on to the head of Diagne and his header is pushed around the post by Dubravka. Was a fairly soft header from 12 yards or so.
Willock does well to win a free-kick that Newcastle will swing into the box, but West Brom defend it well. Gallagher tries to lead a counter-charge but his ball into the box from the right was poor.
Newcastle work a corner routine to Shelvey who sweeps a right-footed shot towards goal. Took a slight deflection on the way through and Johnstone patted it away. That was a well-worked set-piece.
Decent chance for Diagne, he could not quite wrap his foot around the side-foot volley and his effort flew over the bar. Every time I watch Diagne he seems to be on the end of two or three good chances which is promising. Eventually they will start going in.
Lots of head tennis and 50:50 challenges in the middle of the park. After a bright and breezy opening period, both teams have tightened up a touch, perhaps realising the enormity of the fixture.
Sloppy pass from Maitland-Niles in midfield offers Shelvey the chance to flip a pass in behind the West Brom defence and Bartley rather got away with a tug on Joelinton. Right under the linesman's nose but nothing given.
Joelinton gets himself in a tangle with Townsend and is pulled up for a foul. He would have been clean through - I think Bruce will be pleased with that he has seen from the big No 9 so far.
At the other end, Pereira finds some space in the box to meet Townsend's cross but he didn't quite catch the half-volley. Easy save for Dubravka.
West Brom just sitting off and letting Newcastle's defenders pass the ball around among themselves. They feed the ball into the feet of Joelinton who lays it off for Krafth but the right-back's attempted pass to Willock was too heavy.
Gallagher tries to fizz a half-volley out to Townsend but his own team-mate got in the way of it. Dubrakva does well to catch a cross from Phillips. Then Furlong catches Fraser late and Newcastle have a free-kick.
There is that Newcastle threat on the break! Willock carries the ball forward and feeds Joelinton in the right channel who showed a good turn of pace to burn past the West Brom defender. Rather than shooting across goal he looked to square for Fraser but Bartley blocked the pass off. Bruce turns away in disgust. Then Shelvey gets back well to stop a West Brom counter. This game is surprisingly stretched.
West Brom spend a large proportion of each match sitting in without the ball, so they have to be wary of over-committing today as they chase a win. Newcastle do not have much creativity in their side but they do have the legs to hurt West Brom on the break. The visitors have settled marginally better.
West Brom win a free kick just beyond halfway and they are going to send it long towards the box. Bartley won a knock down but Diagne was snuffed out.
Newcastle then launch a great counter-attack through Fraser down the left who had Joelinton free in the middle, but his pass took a nick on the way through and ran behind the Newcastle striker. That looked like being a tap-in for Joelinton. Krafth then has a shot deflected into the arms of Johnstone.
West Brom's turn to win a corner after a slip by Dummett allowed Gallagher to whip a cross in from the right. Pereira with an inswinger but Shelvey heads clear at the near post. West Brom sustain the pressure, but Dubravka does well to come off his line and claim a cross.
West Brom playing with a back four now rather than the five they preferred under Bilic. Newcastle's injury problems mean they have a great chance of getting a result today.
Newcastle gain some territory in the first few minutes, and win a corner thanks to Jeff Hendrick. Fraser to take it from the right, but Bartley is there to stick his bonce on it.
Maitland-Niles knocks the ball back to Bartley and West Brom get us going.
The players are on their way out
Newcastle in their electric green away strip. A huge game for both teams this one.
Two Arsenal loanees up against each other in midfield today
Ainsley Maitland-Niles v Joe Willock. Newcastle will need Willock to run beyond Joelinton and give them some penalty box threat.
Just how big is this for Newcastle?
A taster of Bruce's explosive pre-match press conference
Now it is bordering on ridiculous. Look, we set the schedule last month with the doctors and sports scientists. The playing schedule this year has been totally ridiculous – we didn't have a day off for something like six weeks – so I don't even have to respond to that because I just find that an absolutely absurd and obscene suggestion [that players had had too many days off]. It's laughable, but it makes a national newspaper headline again. It's just ridiculous.
The tale of the tape
Surprise selection from Bruce
A look at the Twitter replies to Newcastle's team news reveals some very unhappy punters. Joelinton has never looked comfortable as an out-and-out No 9, but that's the role he has been allocated today. Gayle and Carroll will be options off the bench.
Newcastle team and subs: Joelinton leads the line, Gayle on the bench
West Brom name an unchanged side
A turning point or a nadir in Newcastle's season?
Newcastle travel to West Brom just three points above the relegation zone and are entering a period which will define their season. All is not well on Tyneside with Steve Bruce and Matt Ritchie involved in a training ground argument and players expressing doubts about Bruce's methods. To make matters worse, they are also missing key attackers Callum Wilson, Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin due to injury. Newcastle have only two wins in their past 15 league games but the fact Fulham travel to Liverpool today should give them some breathing space.
A substantial section of the fanbase has rounded on Bruce, and those who remain supportive of the manager might turn should they lose today. "The row with [Ritchie] is right, but the rest is nonsense," Bruce said, adding that training ground rows "happen up and down the country, every other week at clubs, but it doesn't get out".
West Brom have improved slightly in the last few weeks, with January signing Mbaye Diagne carrying a real threat up front. They held Manchester United to a draw at the Hawthorns, missed two glaring chances to win with 10 men at Burnley and were fortunate in victory against Brighton. West Brom also had their opportunities against Everton in mid-week but need a win today to stand any chance of survival. Allardyce has not been happy with the Premier League's fixture schedule.
“We asked if we could play it next Monday and they [the Premier League] said no,” Allardyce said. “And then what do we have to do? Play at 12 on Sunday. Thank you very much, that’s really nice of you at the Premier League, helping us to get relegated, or trying to get us relegated. That’s how it is. You can ask for different dates or times but any one we asked for has been completely ignored.”
Team news on the way shortly.