Miles Starforth's match analysis: Newcastle United 0 West Bromwich Albion 1
Newcastle United's players were all talked out.
But is Rafa Benitez’s side all played out?
The players weren’t in the mood for talking after Saturday’s 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion.
One by one, they quietly slipped away towards their cars. Only DeAndre Yedlin and Mohamed Diame stopped to speak to journalists.
Islam Slimani definitely wasn’t about to stop in the post-game mix zone after kicking out at Craig Dawson.
The striker could be banned for the last three games of his loan from Leicester City.
It was a forgettable 25 minutes for him and a largely forgettable 90 minutes for the team.
It was left to Rafa Benitez to explain a second successive defeat.
“Everything was wrong from the first minute,” said Benitez, bluntly.
Benitez was right. Everything had been wrong.
But how come? Everything had been so right up to the game against Everton at Goodison Park a week ago.
And that’s the thing. The goal, for so long, had been Premier League surival. 10th-placed Newcastle achieved that goal earlier this month, so what next? Ninth in the table? Or eighth?
Each league place is worth £1.9million, but Benitez is more concerned with performances than places.
“I like to win trophies, not finish 10th,” said Benitez. “We have to improve, we cannot play at the level did against West Brom.”
Places will follow performances, and United haven’t performed since securing their top-flight status.
Benitez had made one change for the West Brom game, replacing Slimani with Dwight Gayle in his starting XI.
And nothing much happened for 20-odd minutes. The visitors - who had beaten Manchester United on their previous away outing - were spirited, disciplined and a threat on the break.
Newcastle couldn’t break them down. Jonjo Shelvey just couldn’t find a pass, and time and again, they gave the ball away.
West Brom’s breakthrough came in the 29th minute. Jake Livermore played a ball to Matt Phillips, who got ahead of Paul Dummett. Phillips burst forward and shot across Martin Dubravka.
United should have levelled six minutes later. Ayoze Perez played in Kenedy, who opted to shoot rather than roll the ball to Gayle, to his right. Kenedy’s shot struck the outside of the post.
It was the last home appearance of Kenedy’s loan from Chelsea, who visit St James’s Park on the final day of the season.
Fans can only hope that he returns next season.
Gayle forced a superb save from goalkeeper Ben Foster after getting on the end of a Florian Lejeune header just before the break.
Newcastle never looked like scoring after the break. Benitez sent on Slimani, Jacob Murphy and Joselu, but West Brom defended deeply, and in numbers, and chances were few and far between.
United were careless with the ball and lacked ideas and imagination, though they limited Moore’s side to just two shots on target.
Everton had only had one shot on target five days earlier, so Newcastle remain hard to beat. West Brom, like Everton, had to work hard for their points, though United’s players know they need to work harder with the ball between now and the end of the season.
Newcastle have lost their edge since their win over Arsenal.
And that, in a way, is understandable. It’s natural. The pressure on Benitez and his players had been immense. Now they’ve got to put pressure on themselves to deliver, starting against Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday.
The beach can wait.