TIME’S running out for Newcastle United.
And it’s running out fast.
Ordinarily, the point the club took home from Upton Park would have been a good one. It still could be.
The margins are so tight in the Premier League that it could be the point which ultimately keeps Newcastle in the division.
Third-bottom Wigan Athletic, surely, aren’t going to keep on winning.
But if they beat Swansea City tomorrow night, the Magpies will be even deeper in trouble.
And Wigan are an in-form team. The same can’t be said for Newcastle, though there were a few signs of life in Alan Pardew’s side in east London on Saturday.
For 45 minutes against West Ham United, they were arguably the better side.
Hatem Ben Arfa breathed some life into what had been a lifeless attack against Liverpool seven days earlier.
Ben Arfa sent a free kick just over Jussi Jaaskelainen’s goal, and Yohan Cabaye wasn’t far away with a shot from distance.
And Papiss Demba Cisse had what looked to be a good first-half goal taken away from him by linesman Matthew Wilkes, best known for failing to flag when Wigan’s Callum McMananman recklessly lunged at Massadio Haidara at the DW Stadium in March.
Haidara was absent at Upton Park, as was first-choice left-back Davide Santon.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa – who’d had a torrid time seven days earlier at centre-half against Liverpool – played at full-back in their absence, and he looked more comfortable.
Yanga-Mbiwa had more time on the ball, and the back four felt the benefit of fit-again captain Fabricio Colocini’s return. His experience and presence has been missed over the past two months.
Newcastle certainly needed Coloccini after the break, when West Ham fought back, though Yoan Gouffran had the chance of the half when he had an empty net to aim at, albeit from a tight angle, after a rush of blood from Jaaskelainen.
Gouffran’s shot flew across the gaping goal. It’s been that kind of season.
At the other end goalkeeper Rob Elliot made a superb double save from Kevin Nolan, who had such an influence on the club’s renaissance in the wake of its last painful relegation during his time at St James’s Park.
Unfortunately, Newcastle are back where they were four years ago, and the hard work of Nolan et al that season is in danger of being wasted.
The performance at Upton Park was neither convincing nor unconvincing.
There was enough spirit about Pardew’s players to suggest the dressing room is united in more than just name.
And Cabaye, still not at his best, was unequivocal about the togetherness behind the scenes after the game.
Pardew himself was positive in his team selection – Ben Arfa was a popular choice to start – and had Cisse’s goal stood, Newcastle could well have taken all three points.
But they didn’t, and the focus now switches to west London and the club’s visit to Queens Park Rangers on Sunday.
By the time they take to the field at Loftus Road, Pardew’s players could find themselves in the bottom three of the Premier League.
Maybe the sight of the club in the relegation zone would be a welcome wake-up call for one or two players, though Newcastle’s travelling fans are under no illusions about the club’s plight.
They’ve travelled up and down the country – and across Europe – this season. They know where their team is with two games left, and where it could be headed.
And they’ll put in the miles next term, whatever division the club is in.
But they deserve Premier League football.
As those fans headed back to Tyneside from London on Saturday night, those on the trains – which were dry on the orders of the police – probably felt like a few more stiff drinks.
Newcastle’s situation is certainly sobering.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: ELLIOT 8; Simpson 7, S Taylor 7, Coloccini 8, Yanga-Mbiwa 7; Tiote 6, Cabaye 6, Gutierrez 5; Ben Arfa 7 (Shola Ameobi, 65, 6), Cisse 6, Gouffran 6 (Gosling, 76). Subs not used: Harper, Williamson, Perch, Anita, Campbell.
WEST HAM UNITED: Jaaskelainen; Demel (Taylor, 80), Collins, Reid, O’Brien; Vaz Te (Collison, 58), Diame, O’Neil, Jarvis (J Cole, 84); Nolan; Carroll. Subs not used: C Cole, Henderson, Noble, Pogatetz.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Rob Elliot. His double save from Kevin Nolan, and the follow-up from Matt Jarvis, was crucial.
HIGHLIGHT: The sight of Fabricio Coloccini back in a black and white shirt. His return is timely.
LOWLIGHT: The decision not to allow Papiss Demba Cisse’s goal. When you’re at the bottom, nothing goes for you.
Bookings: O’Brien 9, Coloccini 77
Referee: Phil Dowd (Stoke-on-Trent)