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May 4, 2013

Toon troubles far from over

In terms of the chaotic and controversial week that they've had, this could reasonably have been framed as a crucially resilient draw for Newcastle United.

In terms of an increasingly tumultuous relegation battle, though, this was a woefully drab display of exactly the type that has the Magpies in such a perilous position in the first place.

Make no mistake, Newcastle are very much in trouble and, given Wigan's fine 3-2 win at West Brom, they don't even have their fate in their own hands.

While that seemed to sink in for the perturbed travelling fans at Upton Park when the other scores were read out after the game, it doesn't appear to have yet registered for either the players or the manager - not least on the evidence of this performance.

Despite their lack of aggression during the game itself going forward, many of the Newcastle team were punching the air resolutely on sealing the point. Afterwards, Alan Pardew made very clear what his take on the game was. He felt it was the perfect response to stories of dressing-room unrest.

"We had to roll our sleeves up in the last 15 minutes, dispel some of the stupid myths that have been thrown around about us, that there's a rift, a lack of unity. We put that to bed," he said.

That, really, remains to be seen.

But, while Pardew's comments denied that story, his general demeanour seemed to defy Newcastle's situation. He certainly didn't have the attitude of a manager under pressure. Quite the opposite.

"It's a great win for Wigan, that puts extra pressure on us and all around us," he explained. "You can only do what you can in a game. I still think, in terms of this season, there's a lot of football to be played, not just for us and Wigan."

Part of the problem, though, is that, unlike Roberto Martinez, Pardew's optimism and calmness doesn't seem to be currently transmitting to his players.

Other than speculative long shots from Yohan Cabaye and Yoann Goufrran, and one big chance for Papiss Cisse in the first half, they played like a team fearful of leaving their own half. Given that they have conceded 10 goals in their last three games, that desperation to keep a clean sheet was perhaps understandable. It wasn't exactly helpful to their predicament and, with the situation at the bottom now on such a knife-edge, it may yet cost them.

To give Newcastle some due, that might further be tilted by the linesman's decision that Cisse's 19th-minute shot had not crossed the line. Getting to a through-ball ahead of Jussi Jaaskelainen, the forward just clipped it around the side of the keeper. Although it didn't have much power on it, it looked to have just enough to creep over and also looked like it definitely had gone over the line before Winston Reid impressively turned it away. One replay seemed to suggest it was a definite goal.

Afterwards, Pardew expressed "worry" that the assistant seemed to fall just at the crucial moment and still made his decision, but had no such concern over his side.

It may well end up as one of those moments on which an entire season swings.

The truth of this game, though, was that most of the other attacking moments came from West Ham United. What's more, the home side can fairly point to two penalties they might have had in the second half as both Andy Carroll and Gary O'Neil were bundled over in the box. It was amazing that West Ham didn't score at least once. Again, Pardew sought to make this a positive.

"[Fabricio] Coloccini was massive for us. We had different organisation and power in the back four. We looked a much better unit. I'm really pleased for a lot of our players today because some of them have taken a lot of heavy criticism this week."

They also took a lot of heavy pressure in this game, not least from the excellent Carroll. Up against his old club and one to which he may well return, the forward did everything well other than actually put the ball in the net.

Carroll did fluff one header straight after half-time, but it was his power and thrust that unexpectedly fashioned the chance in the first place and also continuously caused trouble for Newcastle. In the 64th minute, in particular, the away side were pulled all over the place as Rob Elliott was forced into two fantastic saves from Kevin Nolan and Matt Jarvis.

Again, it was as if West Ham were the team with something to play for. Of course, there was the motivation for Sam Allardyce of getting one over the club who sacked him, though the West Ham manager neglected to speak to the press after the game.

Pardew was much more insistent on offering his take. At the moment, though, it's somewhat hard to agree with. Newcastle are going to need an awful lot more to stay in this division.

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