AS Newcastle United continue to crawl their way to Premier League safety, manager Alan Pardew has one simple, three-word riposte to any criticism of a dismal domestic campaign: the Europa League.
For Pardew, last season's reward for finishing fifth proved a decidedly mixed blessing and, after his team slipped two places to 16th, and below Sunderland, he spoke once again about the demands of a competition which added 14 matches to their calendar and, in his view, stretched his squad to breaking point.
"This was our 50th game of the season, which goes a little bit unnoticed," said Pardew, who was missing a handful of first-teamers at the Hawthorns.
"With all the travelling involved as well, that's tough. Clubs will look at us and the impact it can have, because it's not only the extra games but the injuries we've had on the back of that."
A fight against relegation was certainly not on the agenda when Pardew (left) signed that remarkable eight-year contract last September and cynics might say he is getting his excuses in early in case the unthinkable happens.
Moreover, his critics will point to a season without a goal from a corner and an away record that is the second worst in the division, with just nine points from 17 matches.
In this context, Pardew described the point gleaned here as "gold dust", though it might have been all three had Newcastle taken their chances in a one-sided first half.
Instead their dominance yielded a single Yoan Gouffran strike and they were pegged back in the second period when Albion, with a switch to a front three and a great 45 minutes by Shane Long, responded with Billy Jones' first goal for the club. (© Independent News Service)