Optimists amongst the supporters of West Brom and Newcastle will note points taken from Sunday’s scoreless draw at the Hawthorns, but the truth is that the nil-nil may be the decisive dropped points of relegation seasons.
The four points dropped between the Magpies and Baggies came in different fashions. Sam Allardyce’s hosts were well-drilled in how to beat the Magpies but couldn’t find the goal, while a meek Steve Bruce game plan only succeeded in not losing the game.
“Our goal is to stay out of the bottom three and with the players we’ve got, we can do that,” Bruce said after the game. “It’s not about performances. We have to find a way. I’m quietly confident we’ll do that.”
Good thing it’s not about performances, because the Magpies did not do that at all.
Newcastle was without its three best attackers in Callum Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin, and Miguel Almiron, and Bruce countered by using winger Ryan Fraser up top, attack-challenged Jeff Hendrick in the center of the park, and a left back in Paul Dummett who will never be confused for a marauder.
Allardyce feels his team was hard done by the schedule, having played Thursday while Newcastle was off all week.
He also knows the lack of finishing is a killer.
“I can’t blame the lads for the quality of the effort they showed with playing on Thursday night but unfortunately that final piece of the jigsaw isn’t there at the moment,” Allardyce said. “You look at those four games and it could be four wins easily. It’s four points instead of 12 and we could have been challenging the other boys and unsettled them that little bit more. So the task now is almost every game has to be a win to get out of the trouble we are in.”
The match was the 19th all-time between the two managers, who’ve each won seven and drawn five. They may well meet the 20th time down a division if nothing changes, and that includes a possible removal of Bruce following a midweek dustup with Matt Ritchie and rumors of player disillusionment with his sometimes-sparse training schedule.
“We are disappointed that we didn’t win, whether we did enough to win it, who knows?” Bruce said after the game.
With pearls of wisdom like this post-match comment, how can they fail?
Is this it for Steve Bruce?
Newcastle United’s tactics and performance was a nightmare on Sunday and the club could’ve easily lost to West Brom if the Baggies could shoot.
Instead, as Bruce publicly speaks of finding the rat who leaked news about a training ground spat between Matt Ritchie and the embattled manager, and other reports say the players don’t understand why they don’t train more often, the club is now a favorite to be relegated given Fulham’s big upturn in form.
Of the six teams at the bottom, this is the one that could change its manager for the stretch run.
We won’t tease the Tynesiders by noting that Rafa Benitez is available but Eddie Howe is certainly around and wouldn’t it be amusing if Slaven Bilic showed up to save the day.
That’s entirely speculative, but Newcastle continuing to roll with a boss who rolls out Jeff Hendrick in a game the team needs offense against Europe’s worst defense is… kinda nuts.
Second-time syndrome for both Magpies, Baggies
Bruce pointed out that Newcastle has only lost twice to its remaining opponents but there’s a rub there for the longtime PL boss.
More than having that comment locked and loaded, and that two of those results are against teams far superior to the Magpies in Spurs and West Ham, Newcastle has now faced nine teams twice.
In the first meetings, Newcastle has three wins, one draws, and four losses.
In the second? Two wins, two draws, and four losses.
Newcastle also happens to have 10 points of an available 36 since Dec. 12, collecting two wins, 10 losses, and four draws. Oh, and the aforementioned injuries to Saint-Maximin, Almiron, and Wilson.
Well how about the Baggies? It’s a little trickier because West Brom’s first 13 matches were under a different manager in Slaven Bilic, but we’ll go for it anyway.
West Brom was 1W-4D-8L when it fired Bilic after a draw at Man City.
Their first meetings with foes yielded a win, five losses, and three draws.
Their second? One wins, four losses, four draws.
Now do Fulham, they said
The Cottagers have been incredible in the second half of the season, especially considering their woeful start to the season, but there’s a tough road ahead of Scott Parker’s men.
Sunday’s big win over Liverpool, possibly inspired by Parker’s lucky jacket, is a product of months and months of work as a terrible early-season defensive unit is now very difficult to beat.
“All I ask from everyone around this football club is there’s a work ethic, there’s a constant belief, there’s an understanding of what we need to do to get results,” Parker said. “That’s focusing on us, don’t let the bumps cripple us, don’t worry about the noise, don’t worry about what’s being said, who is saying this, what games are going on, who is winning and who isn’t. What is relevant for us is to come in everyday and to try and improve and get better and I know if we do that we get results.”
Fulham has now beaten Leicester City, Liverpool, and Everton and also taken additional points off Spurs, Liverpool, and West Ham. They are 4W-5L-10D in their last 19 starting with the Leicester win on Nov. 30
Fulham had two wins, four draws, and three losses in their first meetings with teams they’ve met twice this season.
That mark only rises to three wins, four draws, and two losses in the second outcome, largely because of what’s next.
Man City, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United are still on the docket, all but City away. Leeds, Wolves, Burnley, and Fulham come to Craven Cottage, while trips to Villa and Southampton.
FiveThirtyEight has been moved by the Fulham win over Liverpool and has now dropped Newcastle into the third-favorite spot to be relegated.
Incredibly, Fulham and Newcastle are expected to finish an average simulated on 37 points, three points behind Brighton with Burnley four points clear of the drop and Palace six.
According to their simulations, Sheffield United and West Brom are now better than 99% to go down.
Newcastle is at 41 percent and Fulham 33 percent, with the two set to meet on the final day of the season.
Brighton and Burnley are each at 12 percent, which perhaps showcases the Seagulls bad luck as much as anything. They are expected goals darlings and still get Newcastle at home.
Remaining matches and outlook
Could Burnley get dragged into this further? Certainly, considering both Fulham and Newcastle could take three points off the Clarets.
Man City (H)
Man United (A)
West Ham (H)
Leicester City (A)
Man City (H)
Sheffield United (H)
Man United (A)
Sheffield United (A)
West Ham (H)
Man City (A)
We’ve predicted the final matches for every single bottom six team and this is how we see it turning out.
Barring a managerial change at Newcastle — or Burnley regressing — it would be silly to bet against Fulham and Brighton escaping their relegation fight and leaving the Magpies in the bottom three.
PL prediction after 38 minutes (current point total)
15. Brighton (26) — 41 points
16. Burnley (30) — 37 points
17. Fulham (26) — 36 points
18. Newcastle (27) — 35 points
19. West Brom (18) — 26 points
20. Sheffield United (14) — 20 points