Newcastle vs. West Brom: Luck Saves Toon in an Evenly-Matched Game
The most cruel defeats are those that are decided at the last second. Crueler still are those that are the result of some fluke of chance or a totally random mistake.
Unfortunately for an overperforming West Bromwich Albion team, they suffered the latter at St. James' Park. Despite playing Newcastle evenly throughout the entire match, Papiss Cisse's hindquarters proved the difference, as the Magpies walked away with an improbable 2-1 win.
Few outside of St. James' Park would have denied West Brom a point, though, and Romelu Lukaku did all he could to ensure that the Baggies got something from the game.
The Belgian was certainly his team's best player during the 65 minutes he was on the pitch. Indeed, manager Steve Clark's decision to replace Lukaku with Shane Long midway through the second half was rather inexplicable and stopped West Brom's momentum immediately.
Lukaku is one of those players who does not have tremendous pace, but can turn on the speed for short bursts. Combine that with his rather imposing frame and lethal finishing ability and you have the makings of a very successful Premier League player.
Playing mostly on the left, he partnered very well with Peter Odemwingie and the Baggies' midfield, getting himself into numerous scoring positions before finally capitalizing on one of many golden chances in the 55th minute.
Before he finally equalized, Lukaku had twice failed to score when one-on-one with Tim Krul, who was fantastic on the day.
Newcastle can take solace in the fact that, if he stays, they have found a long-term goalkeeper with skill and class in Krul. The Dutchman seems to have a knack for delivering in the biggest moments of matches, and he is nearly impossible to get past on his day.
Most of the story for the Toon will be at the other end of the pitch, though.
Demba Ba continues to show that last season was not a fluke. With his seventh goal in nine starts this season, Ba gave Newcastle the lead in the first half with a cool and powerful finish, showing his importance at the head of the Magpies' attack.
Alan Pardew can only hope now that the injury that forced Ba off in the second half is not too serious. While Papiss Cisse is a very capable striker who has proven that he can catch fire, nobody can quite replace the dynamic Senegalese at the moment.
Ba did need service, though, and plaudits must go to Newcastle's midfield for keeping the game flowing with some occasionally beautiful football. Hatem Ben Arfa was particularly impressive, and if the Frenchman can add a little consistency to his game, he could become one of the most exciting players in the Premier League.
Think a not-so-poor man's Juan Mata, with the ability to singlehandedly lift his team when he is on form.
While not quite as remarkable, West Brom's midfield kept up with its opponent's throughout. Possession was split 50-50 between the two teams, and many of the Baggies' best chances came from ambitious midfield play.
It was just that sort of attitude that won Newcastle the game.
On in place of the injured Demba Ba, young Sammy Ameobi deserves credit for having the audacity to unleash a 25-yard shot with the game in its final moments.
He had no idea, of course, that Papiss Cisse would be in exactly the right location at exactly the right time.
Ameobi's rocket struck Cisse on the back, and Ben Foster could do absolutely nothing when the ball deflected softly into the goal. It is one of the worst kinds of goals to concede at any time, but to do so at the very end of a hard-fought game was heartbreaking for West Brom.
Speaking after the game, Steve Clark reflected:
It was a disappointment. We were terrific. It is disappointing when you come to a place like this and are the best team, and not only don’t get a point, but end up with nothing.
The Baggies are still ahead of Newcastle in a clogged Premier League table. But a win could have kept them in the top four, keeping the players' confidence sky-high and paving the way for success in more winnable competitions.
As a football fan who has experienced that feeling of pure disappointment too many times, I do feel for West Brom somewhat. It is incumbent on them, though, to pick their heads up immediately and fix the mistakes that were made at St. James' Park.
For Newcastle, this victory should lead to bigger things. With a squad that has loads of potential and a star forward in Demba Ba, they should take this win to each of their domestic and European games.
Immensely frustrating for one and exhilarating for the other, each side will decide what to take from a truly even match.
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