Steve McClaren hails Newcastle 'heroes' as Magpies climb out of drop zone
Published 06/02/2016 | 21:21
Beleaguered Newcastle head coach Steve McClaren saluted his patched-up team after seeing them climb out of the Barclays Premier League relegation zone with victory over West Brom.
Aleksandar Mitrovic's 32nd-minute strike settled a game the Magpies might have won much more comfortably, and the 1-0 win, coupled with Norwich's defeat at Aston Villa, eased them into 17th place in the table.
They remain just a point clear of the drop zone, but McClaren is confident Newcastle now have a foundation upon which to build.
He said: "The three points are enormous. We said, 'If we win today, we'll get out of the bottom three', which is important. But you have to gather the points.
"This was a patched-up team, especially the defence, and we know - and I am hoping and I believe - that we will get stronger as the season comes to an end. Our squad will get stronger and better when we get people fit and defenders back.
"But the heroes today were the likes of Steven Taylor, Cheick Tiote and Rolando Aarons, who we threw in really and were probably not ready, but through cramp and everything got through 90 minutes."
Taylor had not played a competitive game since August because of a hamstring injury, while Tiote might have left the club for Shanghai Shenhua last month and winger Aarons was asked to line up at left-back with McClaren having only three fit defenders.
Newcastle created more than enough chances to win the game long before the final whistle, but had to tough it out through a final five minutes which McClaren later admitted felt like "five hours".
The Magpies thought they had taken the lead through Tiote's 29th-minute screamer, only for referee Lee Mason to disallow it for offside after consulting his assistant, much to the annoyance of the home crowd and the Ivory Coast international.
McClaren said with a smile: "Tiote gets one goal every five years, so it is a bit disappointing to chalk that one off."
Asked if the win had dragged the Baggies back into the relegation fight - they are currently five points better off than McClaren's men - the Newcastle boss said: "I honestly don't look around, I just look at what we're doing.
"I'm not setting targets, but our next game is Chelsea, that's going to be tough, but we have just got to keep going forward, getting people fit and making sure consistently we put in performances like that."
Opposite number Tony Pulis, however, insisted as many as 10 teams could consider themselves far from safe.
West Brom boss Pulis said: "I don't think anybody in the bottom half of the table will think they are safe. It's been shown year after year after year - and I have fought enough battles in it - you have to get the points, it's not good looking over your shoulder at whether this is going to happen, whether that is going to happen.
"You have to get the points, that's the big thing."
The Baggies were simply not at the races at St James' Park, and Pulis pulled no punches in his assessment of their performance.
He said: "I have been at the club for just over a year now and that's most probably the most disappointing away performance we've had.
"The best way of describing it is that we were in a boxing match and we shadow-boxed for 90-odd minutes.
"Newcastle were just better all over the pitch. It was only in the last 10 minutes, really, that we got up the pitch and created opportunities - and even then, we don't make the goalkeeper save, so it was a disappointing day for us."