Analysis: McClaren has saved his job for now but this can’t be another false dawn

Aleksandar Mitrovic
Aleksandar Mitrovic

Steve McClaren is safe at Newcastle United – for now.

This was a game simply McClaren’s side simply had to win.

Had Newcastle lost, McClaren might still have retained the backing of owner Mike Ashley.

But the club’s head coach would have lost a fanbase which had been ready to turn on him.

And the discontent which has been simmering beneath the surface for months would have boiled over at St James’s Park.

McClaren, for all his public positivity, knew this as well as anyone.

The 54-year-old was fully aware that only a win – however it came – would buy him more time on Tyneside.

What they saw was a dominant performance in every area except in front of goal, though a strike from Aleksandar Mitrovic was enough to take all three points from West Bromwich Albion, a team which had lost only one of its previous nine games.

The result, and Norwich City’s defeat at Aston Villa, lifted the club out of the Premier League’s relegation zone.

United’s performance was undoubtedly convincing.

However, many supporters still need convincing that McClaren can lift the team further up the table.

And Chelsea are next. At Stamford Bridge.

After that game there’s a long break before the club’s visit to the Britannia Stadium, another ground where Newcastle have a sorry recent record.

It’s the kind of break which would lend itself to a managerial change.

Also, 12 games would have given a new head coach time to bring about a change in fortunes.

Alan Shearer had eight matches in the 2008-09 season. That wasn’t enough time.

But it seems inconceivable now that the club will sack McClaren before that game given the performance against West Brom.

United were dominant from start to finish.

Admmittedly, Tony Pulis’ side were awful. There haven’t been too many more one-sided matches at St James’s Park in recent years.

West Brom came to defend for 90 minutes, and that’s what they did.

Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot has been over-worked since coming into the side since October, but he had a well-earned breather in this fixture.

United’s patched-up defence coped well with what little was thrown at it.

Ben Foster, his counterpart in the West Brom goal, had a busier afternoon, making early saves from Andros Townsend, on his home debut, and Mitrovic.

Still, the visitors, as unambitious as they were, were organised enough in the first half, and it looked like being a long afternoon.

Pulis was apopleteic at times on the touchline.

Cheick Tiote, making his first start since the breakdown of a proposed move to Shanghai Shenhua, was everywhere, as was Jonjo Shelvey, his midfield partner.

Tiote, and just about everyone inside St James’s Park, thought he’d made a goalscoring return in the 29th minute, having beaten Foster from outside the box.

But Mitrovic was stood blocking Foster’s sightline and the goal, eventually, was disallowed.

Four minutes later, the ball was back in the net, and the strike owed everything to a pass from Shelvey, who had played the ball to his feet and split the West Brom defence.

Chances came and went in the second half.

The best of the opportunities fell to Georginio Wijnaldum, who headed over a cross from Townsend, whose pace troubled West Brom all afternoon.

Townsend, withdrawn to a standing ovation late in the game, also hit the post.

Newcastle had a nervy last 20 minutes, but the West Brom, not even subsitutute Saido Berahino, could really trouble the home side.

Berahino, a target for United last month, looked anything but a £21million player, having hardly featured in recent months.

But as good as McClaren’s side were, they were still unconvincing in front of goal.

It’s been a problem all season. And it looks like being being a problem in the final 13 games of the season.

One goal hasn’t normally been enough for Newcastle under McClaren, but the partnership of Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor could be the answer to the club’s defensive problems.

Taylor, making his first appearance since August, was solid alongside the United skipper.

Fortunately, makeshift left-back Rolando Aarons was able to spend much of the game on the front foot.

United were better, much better than at Goodison Park, where they were beaten 3-0 by Everton, three days earlier.

Fans, however, know that the home win over West Ham proved to be a false dawn. And there have been too many of those under McClaren.