Fletcher piles on the misery for hapless Newcastle
West Bromwich Albion 1 Newcastle United 0
Few will be ringing out the old year with the fervour of Newcastle United but they will not be looking forward to the new one with any enthusiasm.
In 2015, Newcastle have played 38 Premier League matches. They've won seven, lost 22 and collected just 30 points. This is relegation form and, although this latest loss leaves them only two points adrift, they will end up in the Championship next season unless there is a significant upturn.
The Magpies were markedly inferior yesterday to a West Brom side struggling for form and goals themselves and, after succumbing to Darren Fletcher's header, were met at the final whistle with verbal abuse raining down on them from their own supporters.
This was not entirely deserved - for the most part it was incompetence rather than lack of effort that undermined Newcastle - but they offered little after Fletcher finally broke the deadlock. Next up are Arsenal and Manchester United.
Head coach Steve McClaren railed at referee Mike Jones for denying Alexsander Mitrovic a "blatant penalty" with the game deadlocked, but the incident (a tug in the box) did not look clear-cut.
McClaren also blamed Karl Darlow, on his Premier League debut, for allowing Fletcher's header to squirm under his body, but could just have easily scapegoated the midfielders who failed to stop Claudio Yacob's cross and the defenders who gave Fletcher a free header. Or the owner who underfunds the team. Or the coaching staff who set them up.
Darlow, thrust into the fray 30 minutes before kick-off after Rob Elliot failed to overcome a stomach bug, had a poor game, but Newcastle's hapless defence would reduce Petr Cech to a bag of nerves. If Albion had had a natural goalscorer on the pitch they would have won comfortably.
Actually, they did, for the last 20 minutes. That was how long Saido Berahino was given to make amends for provoking a pre-match outburst from Tony Pulis.
The striker, one of the most natural finishers in the league, was "lucky" even to be on the bench, said the Albion boss, alluding darkly to what he had "seen" in the week.
Pulis was equally opaque afterwards as to Berahino's actual offence, but made clear he had transgressed the 'team-comes-first' code. "Sometimes supporters do not realise what goes on behind the scenes," added the manager. (© Independent News Service)