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.