Newcastle United's manager Pardew gestures during their English Premier League soccer match against West Ham United at The Boleyn Ground in London

A drab draw and a tight smile from Newcastle, Alan Pardew

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The smile that crawled onto Alan Pardew’s face as he left the Boleyn Ground was a curious one. When full-time was blow on his team’s 0-0 with West Ham, the autonomic response of the Newcastle boss portrayed a man satisfied with the stalemate. And maybe that was the right response – road points, relegation scraps, and what not – but for a team that could sit 17th after Sunderland’s game on Monday, middling performances and silver linings just remind fans of how far they’ve fallen.

But you can excuse fans upon Tyne for being over questions of what should have been. Yes, Newcastle’s talent is much better than this – a late season relegation scrap — but that is what it is. The bigger concern, at this point, is avoiding another year in the Championship, and while one point at Upton Park seems to help that cause, the Magpies’ form won’t assuage any doubts.

Not to mentioned West Ham had nothing to play for. And to a certain extent, it showed, with full-time handshakes between two contented sides more reminiscent of the 18th green than a soccer game featuring a relegation candidate. The Hammers are free of such worries, but the threat should have pushed the Magpies to steal two extra points from their relatively apathetic host. Short of West Ham performing beyond that deflated expectation, Newcastle should have used this match to change course after last week’s 6-0 drubbing by Liverpool.

Which brings us back to that tight smile. Newcastle’s manager should have seen this as opportunity lost – not only a match in which he could have quelled most of his relation worries but also a chance to forget last weekend’s debacle, cast recent struggles as a bump instead of a trend, and potentially save his job. But it seemed Pardew was smiling because he stayed in the relegation battle. He was smiling at the road point. He was smiling at being shut out. He was smiling a minimally acceptable result.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but could that be a reason why Newcastle might finish the match day in 17th place? Sure, there are probably more reasons. There may be better ones, and this smile may have absolutely nothing to do with a team that’s fallen from a top-four contender last year to bottom-three candidate now.

In which case, just consider the smile less symptomatic than symbolic.

West Ham extend Payet’s contract in “enormous show of faith”

West Ham’s Dimitri Payet celebrates after scoring while soap bubbles are blown during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham and Newcastle at Boleyn Ground in London, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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West Ham United hope Dimitri Payet is going absolutely nowhere after the club announced on Thursday the 28-year-old Frenchman has signed a contract extension through the summer of 2021.

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Payet’s current contract was scheduled to keep him at the Premier League club through the summer of 2020, but a series of standout performances (6 goals, 4 assists so far this season, mostly during the season’s opening three months) and rumors of interest from “bigger” clubs meant tacking on another year — and plenty more cash — was the best way to keep Payet in east London for the foreseeable future. The club confirmed earlier this week that negotiations over an extension were underway.

“He’s the best player I’ve signed in 25 years,” said West Ham co-owner David Sullivan. “He’s a [$43 million] player. He’s a supreme footballer. He makes every player in our side play better. On his day, he’s world class, he’s unstoppable.”

Payet, who’s been at West Ham just eight months after signing last summer, could still depart in the summer should he finish the current season strong and/or show up and show out at the European Championship, which kicks off in June. In that event, West Ham would now bag a much heftier transfer fee than they would have done prior to the extension.

VIDEO: Dele Alli’s magnificent juggling goal recreated in hand-drawn crayon

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Remember that Dele Alli goal? No, not that one… that one. Of course you remember it. How could you not?

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How often does a player receive the ball out of the air, flick it over his head, spin 180 degrees and hit an inch-perfect volley from 20 yards out to secure all three points for his team? The answer is, of course, not very often.

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Thus, a goal such as Alli’s stunning winner against Crystal Palace last month has been, and will continue to be, immortalized through numerous recreations in this Digital Age. Above is Alli’s goal recreated in hand-drawn crayon.

Watch Live: Guatemala vs. T&T; Canada vs. Guyana in Olympic qualifying

Canadian players wave to fans after a 2-1 loss to England in a quarterfinal of the Women's World Cup soccer tournament, Saturday, June 27, 2015, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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Group B is set to kick off Thursday night at the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, as Canada, third-place finishers at the 2012 Olympics, begin their quest to qualify for this summer’s games in Rio de Janeiro.

Guyana versus Trinidad and Tobago is up first (6 p.m. ET) from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Tex, followed by the Canadians, who will take on Guyana (8:30 p.m. ET) in the nightcap.

[ WATCH LIVE: Guatemala vs. T&T live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

[ WATCH LIVE: Canada vs. Guyana live on line on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The U.S. women’s national began its Olympic qualifying campaign in impressive fashion on Wednesday with a 5-0 victory over Costa Rica, while Mexico jumped to the top of Group A with a 6-0 victory over Puerto Rico.

Sunderland terminate Adam Johnson’s contract after guilty pleas in sex case

Sunderland winger Adam Johnson arrives at Bradford Crown Court, England, Wednesday Feb. 10, 2016. Johnson has pleaded guilty in court to one count of sexual activity with a child and another of grooming. The 28-year-old Johnson, who has made 12 appearances for England, denies two charges of sexual activity with a girl under the age of 16. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE
Peter Byrne/PA via AP
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SUNDERLAND, England (AP) Sunderland has fired winger Adam Johnson after he pleaded guilty to grooming and sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl at the start of his trial.

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Johnson, who has played 12 times for England, continues to deny two further counts of sexual activity with a child.

Sunderland dismissed Johnson ahead of his trial resuming on Friday at Bradford Crown Court.

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In a statement, Sunderland announced Thursday that “in light of Adam Johnson’s guilty pleas, the club has today terminated his contract with immediate effect.”

The former Manchester City player joined Sunderland in 2012 for 10 million pounds (now about $14.5 million).