AS the shrill burst of Howard Webb’s whistle pierced the chilly Staffordshire night, Alan Pardew fixed the pitch with a disbelieving look and shook his head.
Having just watched his team toss away an evening’s encouraging work in the space of four insipid minutes, he was entitled to the reaction. This was a big night in Newcastle’s season and having built such solid foundations at the Britannia, their inexplicable implosion was particularly tough to take.
This was better from Pardew’s team – much, much better. The heartfelt and rousing round of applause that was afforded Newcastle’s disconsolate players and coaching staff was a just reward for their efforts and a counter-point to any of the cyber discontent that will crackle round Twitter and the black and white messageboards today.
That kind of reaction is not easily earned, and from the hardcore of United’s travelling support it says a lot. It is apparent that there is no heartfelt yearning for a sacrifice among the Newcastle faithful – even if this run has dumped the team in a fight at the fag end of the Premier League.
In those circumstances, a shake of the head seems the natural reaction.
The improved performance will count for a lot as Pardew heads for a debrief at United’s Benton training base this morning. But where it matters – in the Premier League table – it counts for nothing.
The galling thing here was that Newcastle’s demise was partly self-inflicted. Having performed with such resolve and spirit for so long, they were sliced open by two plays that were straight out of the Tony Pulis coaching manual.
The equaliser was a ball down the channel that was well controlled by Cameron Jerome, who teed up a glancing header for Jonathan Walters. Newcastle had been dealing with that all evening but the one time black-and-white shirts went missing, they were punished.
The second was barely excusable.
A punt downfield towards Kenwyne Jones was not won by Mike Williamson but it was Fabricio Coloccini – so cool all night – who was caught out of position as Jerome rifled home.
How could it have happened, especially when the reinvigorated Papiss Cissé’s goal had appeared to suggest a renaissance in black and white fortunes? Confidence, perhaps. It looks worryingly brittle at the moment and it will be again tested on Monday when Wigan visit St James’ Park in a match that now takes on must-win status for Pardew and his players.