Newcastle boss looking for better second half

Steve McClaren
Steve McClaren

Steve McClaren’s banking on it being a season of two halves for Newcastle United as his team prepares to cross the halfway line.

The club dropped into the Premier League’s drop zone on Boxing Day.

An injury-time strike from Tom Cleverley gave Everton a 1-0 at St James’s Park.

And Steve McClaren’s relegation-threatened side take on West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns this afternoon at the midpoint the campaign.

McClaren knows there needs to be a significant improvement on the pitch if the club is to stay up.

“It is like a football match,” said McClaren, whose side fought back against Everton after spending the first half on the back foot.

“We’re coming to the end of the first half, and as we have seen, two halves are completely different.

“We hope our second half will be better, and there is still 19 games to go, so still plenty and in terms of performance, I couldn’t fault it (against Everton), but it is so disappointing.

“Hopefully, the second half (of the season) will be better.”

Everton dominated the first half at St James’s Park, and United again had Rob Elliot to thank for a string of saves.

The goalkeeper – who had started the season as the club’s third-choice between the posts – denied Romelu Lukaku among others in the first 45 minutes.

Elliot was handed a chance in October after No 1 Tim Krul suffered a season-ending injury.

McClaren said: “I said at the time it was up to him and come in and get us the points Tim would have got us, and in recent weeks he has certainly earned his corn.

“It’s just disappointing for him that he didn’t get the point.

“He has stepped in and did the job, and not just between the sticks, but he has great experience, (is a) good talker in the dressing and a great asset for us.”

Elliot’s heroics ensured United had a chance of taking all three points in the second half. Aleksandar Mitrovic put a header wide in the 72nd minute – former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer labelled it an “absolute sitter” on Match of the Day – and Georginio Wijnaldum forced a good save from Tim Howard.

Mitrovic had been struggling with an ankle problem ahead of the game.

And the summer signing was being assessed ahead of the West Brom game.

McClaren said: “He had an ankle injury and struggled to make the game, but made it and he was our focal point.

“I still think he was causing them problems with his physicality, and we wanted to put Florian (Thauvin) on and get crosses into the box, as we did last week (against Aston Villa), and it nearly worked.

“He had the opportunity, and in future games hopefully he takes them.”

Cleverley netted deep in injury time for Everton.

Elliot punched a corner from substitute Gerard Deulofeu, and Cleverley looped a header into the net.

Asked about the goal, Cleverley said: “It feels brilliant. I’ve really got to enjoy it, because these moments don’t come around too often, especially away from home.

“As a midfielder, you’ve got to do a job for the team, and sometimes you’re not always the hero, so I’m going to enjoy this.

“I knew as soon as I headed it that it could be going in just under the bar, and luckily it did for me. I’m just thankful. I think we deserved that bit of luck as a team.”