Now that’s more like it.
Newcastle United just took a point at The Hawthorns last night. But it was an important point.
And what’s more, the players made a point.
Rafa Benitez’s side came from two goals down to draw 2-2 with West Bromwich Albion thanks to a Ciaran Clark header and an own goal from Jonny Evans.
The result ended a run of four damaging defeats and lifted the club into 12th place.
Benitez, reacting to the weekend’s 3-0 defeat to Watford, made five changes to his team.
Out went Jonjo Shelvey, Dwight Gayle, Rob Elliot, Mohamed Diame and Javier Manquillo, and in came Mikel Merino, Ayoze Perez, Karl Darlow, Isaac Hayden and Chancel Mbemba.
Joselu, however, kept his place in his starting XI.
Benitez had had a “reality” check for fans ahead of the game. Returning to the club’s abortive summer transfer business, Benitez implored fans to stay behind a team.
“We were surprised when the team was top six, top eight,” said Benitez. “The reality is that we have a team which has to compete at the bottom of the table.”
That wasn’t what fans wanted to hear.
Benitez also addressed criticism of his players, notably Joselu.
“Everybody has an opinion – that’s football, that’s fair – but our fans, they have to realise that our reality is that, from September 1, that’s the group of players that we have and we have to stick together, maybe until May,” added United’s manager.
That also wasn’t what supporters, anxiously waiting on news of a takeover ahead of the January transfer window, wanted to hear.
Still, Newcastle’s 2,600 fans – the away end quickly sold out – got behind their team on a bitterly cold night at The Hawthorns.
And the early signs were positive.
United’s side looked to be better organised out of possession and more fluid with the ball.
West Brom did cause problems. Matt Phillips was a threat on the right, and Salomon Rondon struck the bar after taking the ball off Merino, who was making his first start in almost two months after recovering from a back problem.
Chances were few and far between, though a mix-up between goalkeeper Ben Foster and Ahmed Hegazi almost let in Newcastle.
Hayden had the game’s first shot target in the 35th minute, and Karl Darlow gathered a Hal Robson-Kanu header as the break approached.
Darlow couldn’t stop Robson-Kanu’s header in first half injury-time.
Kieran Gibbs, a player Benitez had wanted to bring to Newcastle in the summer, got past DeAndre Yedlin for the first time and crossed for Robson-Kanu.
It was a bad goal conceded at a bad time.
United probed away after the interval, and Merino forced a low save from Foster after latching on to a clearance.
But things were to get worse for Newcastle in the 56th minute. Sam Field lost marker Yedlin to volley a deep Phillips cross home at the far post.
It was turning into a bad night for Yedlin, who had been widely blamed for Watford’s goals.
Newcastle quickly replied. Clark headed a Matt Ritchie corner home, and, buoyed by the goal, they pressed for an equaliser. There were chants of “Mitro” from the away end, but Benitez instead sent on Rolando Aarons.
Aarons delivered a good ball for Ritchie, who forced a fine save from Foster. Perez, however, was offside.
Ritchie kicked the advertising hoarding behind Foster’s goal in frustration.
United had the bit between their teeth, and Mitrovic followed Aarons on to the pitch.
Ritchie was soon celebrating again. West Brom substitute James McClean conceded a free-kick and Ritchie’s low ball was diverted onto Jonny Evans by Rondon, and past Foster.
And that own goal claimed a deserved point for United, who had shown just the kind of fight and spirit they will need over the coming weeks and months.