Newcastle slip closer to relegation zone

Posted by Marc Duffy

Newcastle players applaud the fans after the draw at West HamGettyImagesNewcastle players applaud the fans after the draw at West Ham

Newcastle kept their first clean sheet away from home for four months in Saturday afternoon's 0-0 draw at West Ham United, but away wins for Wigan at West Brom (3-2) and Aston Villa at Norwich (2-1) mean that Newcastle have slipped further towards the relegation zone with only two games to play.

Newcastle, in 16th, are just one point ahead of Sunderland, who play Stoke on Monday, and just three points ahead of Wigan, who currently occupy the final relegation spot but have a game in hand.

- Premier League standings

Newcastle have a serious problem with second-half performances when away from St James' Park. That was evident two weeks ago when the Magpies dominated West Brom at the Hawthorns for 45 minutes, before sitting back after the break and dropping two points. Although Newcastle did not concede on Saturday, their performance mirrored the West Brom effort in that after a very positive first half, Newcastle offered next to no attacking in the second.

As Roberto Martinez and Paul Lambert sent their teams out for three points in their games, Newcastle boss Alan Pardew apparently seemed to think that a draw for Newcastle would be sufficient.

However, Newcastle were very unlucky not to take the lead 20 minutes in to the game. A clever pass from Yohan Cabaye was collected by Papiss Cisse, who slotted the ball past West Ham goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen. As Winston Reid desperately chased back to clear, the linesman (Matthew Wilkes) fell over. Phil Dowd was, as ever, way behind play. The ball looked to have crossed the line but no goal was given. It was a close call -- initial angles were unclear but then a third angle showed that the ball was in.

This is the same linesman who missed the severity of Callum McManaman's horror tackle on Massadio Haidara.

Having failed to score in the first half, I feared for Newcastle. Why? In their previous 17 away games this season Newcastle have scored 12 times and conceded only 11 before the break, then, after words of wisdom from their manager, they have gone on to concede 23 and score only 10 goals in the second halves of games.

If it is not the half-time tinkering and speech that leads to such abysmal decline, what is it? Well, Pardew's substitutions also contribute. On Saturday we saw Hatem Ben Arfa taken off and replaced by Shola Ameobi with 25 minutes to go. Yes, Hatem is only just back from injury, but replacing him with a player who has scored twice in 45 Premier League appearances?

Pardew's next substitution was even worse: Yoan Gouffran taken off, with Dan Gosling coming on. Mind boggling. What has Vurnon Anita done that has seen him vanish out of the picture?

As a result, West Ham pressed, Newcastle offered nothing in the way of attacking threat, Rob Elliot made a few decent saves and the game ended goalless, with Newcastle sliding deeper into trouble.

It was not all doom and gloom, though. It is no coincidence that the clean sheet coincided with the return to the team of Fabricio Coloccini following an eight-game absence. In those eight games Newcastle have conceded a staggering 18 goals. His presence brought a calmness to the defence that we have not seen at all during the Steven Taylor/Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa partnership.

As I wrote earlier this week, Newcastle have their destiny in their own hands. If they go to Queens Park Rangers next week and win, then they should be safe. What is worrying is that Pardew seems no longer capable of setting up a team to win away from home - hence one solitary away win in 19 attempts.

This one could go right down to the wire.

Twitter: @MarcSDuffy

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