As Alan Pardew shook hands with Steve Clarke at the final whistle he had only one word for his West Bromwich Albion counterpart. "Sorry," said Newcastle United's manager after seeing his side secure a most flattering three points thanks to Papiss Cissé's inadvertent late winner.
Ninety-three minutes had passed when Hatem Ben Arfa's surging, crossfield dribble enabled the substitute Sammy Ameobi to launch a speculative shot goalwards. Happily for Newcastle fans it took a deflection off Cissé's rear, leaving Ben Foster completely wrong-footed, and went in.
"I won't make any bones about it, we didn't deserve it," said Pardew. "They were pushing for a win at the end and we didn't have too many ideas. We were tired in the second half, we had no rhythm and I was messing about with my team, but Sammy shot and if you shoot, you never know what will happen."
Newcastle's manager initially opted for a 4-3-3 formation featuring Shola Ameobi to the right of Demba Ba and Ben Arfa on the left. Once again there was no starting slot for Cissé while, further back, James Perch assumed the suspended Cheik Tioté's enforcer role.
All dribbles, nutmegs and clever dodges, Ben Arfa was Newcastle's best player and he very nearly helped supply an early lead. After meeting Ben Arfa's pass Ameobi Snr crossed invitingly towards Ba but despite making a decent connection the Senegal striker headed uncharacteristically wide.
Emboldened by this reprieve, Clarke's swift-breaking Albion players offered a typical counter-attacking riposte. Graham Dorrans's smart through-pass found the excellent Romelu Lukaku and Tim Krul did well to parry his shot.
Foster was left with no scope for similar heroics when, shortly afterwards, he was beaten by Ba's volley following Ameobi's headed flick and poor defending on the part of Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley.
Clarke must have rued the failure of Claudio Yacob to pass a fitness test in time to join Youssouf Mulumbu at the base of midfield in his 4-2-3-1 formation. Yacob has been Albion's stand-out individual lately and, during the first half, Newcastle highlighted James Morrison's out of position deployment in the absent Argentinian's holding role.
Albion's manager may also have reflected on how much has changed since the days when he served as first-team coach at St James' Park; some say that Ruud Gullit's most inspired act as Newcastle's manager was the elevation of Clarke from a junior role.
Lukaku equalised 10 minutes after the interval when Zoltan Gera, exploiting Danny Simpson's defensive negligence, crossed left-footed for the Chelsea loanee – who Robert Di Matteo is pondering recalling in January – to head beyond Krul. "West Brom have real assurance about them and Lukaku's a big talent," said Pardew. "He was a real problem for us."
That goal proved to be virtually the last acto of the Belgian before his controversial replacement by Shane Long. By then Pardew had introduced Cissé and Gabriel Obertan, switched to 4-4-2 and rather desperately began pushing assorted tactical buttons.
He found himself forced into further change when Ba, whose vulnerable left knee took a hefty knock in the first half, limped off. "Hopefully Demba's not a major concern but he may struggle to play at Liverpool next week," said Pardew. "We think he's damaged a nerve in his shin."
On came Sammy Ameobi but with Newcastle missing Tiote's tackles and West Brom suddenly coping well without Yacob, the power-balance had altered significantly. Or so everyone thought until Ameobi's shot and Cisse's back did the rest. "We were the best team," said Clarke. "But football's a cruel game."
Man of the match: Romelu Lukaku (West Bromwich Albion)
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