Tough Toon return for Clarke
Steve Clarke is likely to feel hard done by at the result his West Brom side suffered at Newcastle on Sunday, with a freak injury-time goal from Papiss Cisse condemning them to an unfortunate 2-1 defeat.
Clarke was in familiar surroundings as he entered the dugout, returning to the club that had given him his first taste of management 12 years ago. Then, stepping in as caretaker following the departure of Ruud Gullit and his 'sexy football', Clarke saw his Newcastle team succumb to a 5-1 defeat at Manchester United. He had at least been given a grounding in tough days at the office from the very start.
Perhaps he had been tempting fate earlier in the week when he mentioned that his side had both scored and conceded late goals, although his assessment that it was due to their games becoming stretched in their final throes offered a logical explanation.
It was the same story on Sunday when, before kick-off, a circling bi-plane trailed a banner that said: "St James' Park is back from wonga.com" - a further attempt by the loan company to curry favour with the fans after the latest sponsorship deal.
The last time these two teams met, it was the rampant counter-attacking style of Newcastle that made the headlines as they ran out 3-1 winners. The Baggies, then under the stewardship of Roy Hodgson, had seemingly learned from their mistakes this time around and seemed keen to exact revenge by playing Newcastle at their own game.
For the opening quarter of the game, Clarke could not be seen, sheltered from the harsh North-East wind in his dugout. Such is his style: while Alan Pardew was perched on the edge of his technical box from a minute before kick-off, constantly shouting and gesticulating at his players, the West Brom head coach remained calm throughout. Even when he emerged from his dugout, he was content to slowly pace his technical area, stopping briefly to issue instructions before returning his hands to his pockets.
Pardew had reason to be animated. Romelu Lukaku was a big threat in the first half but could not capitalise on two golden opportunities that came his way as Tim Krul produced stunning saves.
In the 35th minute, Newcastle abandoned their passing interchanges for an altogether more direct option.
Krul started the move with a long goal-kick that found the head of Shola Ameobi. The Nigerian's flick caught Gareth McAuley off guard, with his poor back header giving Demba Ba the chance to earn his seventh goal of the season.
As the cold weather began to bite, West Brom turned up the heat and, in the 55th minute, Lukaku finally beat Krul with a neat header from a Zoltan Gera cross. The Belgian has drawn comparisons with Didier Drogba and, while he lacks the goalscoring potency of his former Chelsea team-mate, the parallels are there to see.
As the game entered its final quarter, West Brom were often entrenched in their own half but nevertheless appeared to carry a real threat to a tiring Newcastle side. It was not to be. Sammy Ameobi cut inside, and his shot hit fellow substitute Papiss Cisse on the back and trickled past the helpless Ben Foster. St James' erupted.
Pardew was both relieved and surprised that his team had snatched a win so late on, and also that Cisse had got his first league goal of the season after a difficult start to the campaign.
Clarke, though, made no secret of his disappointment, saying: "It's disappointing when you come to a place like this and you're the best team and you don't even get a point."
Newcastle boss Pardew was willing to concede that his side had no real right to have won and offered credit to the visitors. In his many years as a manager, he has had plenty of experience of late setbacks of this type. He offered sympathy to Clarke before adding: "But that's football."