Newcastle United will now just have their league ambitions to concentrate on following their exit from the FA Cup at the weekend.
It was with a great feeling of injustice that Newcastle went out of the cup in a 4-2 to defeat to West Brom. Referee James Linnington’s performance was the game’s main talking point as he angered the Newcastle faithful with a number of controversial decisions which seemed to favour the home side. Even the normally calm and relaxed Chris Hughton struggled to contain his disappointment at the inept official. West Brom’s opening goal started the series of poor decisions as doubts were raised over how much of the ball had crossed the line. With the scoreline at 2-1 to the Baggies, Newcastle felt they should have had a penalty when Shola Ameobi was sandwiched in the box by two opposition players. These claims were ignored by Linnington, who dismissed a number of good penalty appeals by Newcastle. To make matters worse West Brom immediately went down the opposite end of the pitch to earn a penalty for themselves which also saw Ryan Taylor sent-off. In defence of the referee his career to date has been mainly in League One or League Two. But the man from the Isle of Man will have few friends on Tyneside after this showing. Newcastle’s Kevin Nolan said: “It’s an injustice what happened. Not just to us – because we’re not saying we’re going to go on and win the game if we get the penalty – but to the FA Cup too. The game was spoiled by decisions and it’s beyond me. I don’t want to say too much about him (Linnington) because I’ll get in trouble. I just think the referee doesn’t deserve to get in the way of two good sides going at it. We had two massive penalty appeals and there’s no doubt about it, they’re both penalties. It was blatant – even their lads know it.”
The referee’s performance went some way to masking what was at times a poor display from the Magpies especially in the first half. The defeat brings an end to Newcastle’s 14 game unbeaten run in all competitions. But if you were to offer a defeat in the cup to a defeat in the league then Hughton would probably be satisfied. The two games against West Brom should certainly have given the manager plenty to think about in terms of how his side can improve. In both games they have at times looked outclassed by Roberto di Matteo’s free flowing side. If they do go on to reach the Premier League there will need to be rebuilding work carried out on the side over the summer. Defensively they still look shaky against forwards of high quality and going forward they can be predictable with the left channel their only really attacking outlet. But in this league grit, character and a little bit of quality at key moments can carry a side a long way.
Defender, Steven Taylor’s absence was sorely missed against West Brom and there are fears that he could be ruled out for several months with injury. Taylor has a knee ligament problem that will probably rule him out until March or possibly even longer. Youngster Tamas Kadar did not have the best of games against West Brom so Hughton will have little option but to dip into the transfer market. Another Taylor – Birmingham City’s Martin – had been strongly linked with a move to Tyneside. The powerful defender was born in the north east and would probably be available to sign. Another option could be Mike Williamson if a new deal can be arranged between Newcastle and Portsmouth. But there are a number of complexities surrounding Williamson’s move from Watford to Portsmouth in the summer in terms of money still owed. Two formerly loaned players are unlikely to be rejoining Newcastle as defender Zurab Khizanishvilli has joined Reading on loan while Marlon Harewood is currently injured for several weeks.
Newcastle go into Wednesday night’s Championship game against Crystal Palace with their small squad stretched to the limit. In defence Ryan Taylor is suspended, Steven Taylor is definitely out and Danny Simpson is a doubt. Nicky Butt and Shola Ameobi are also doubts but Peter Lovenkrands may return from a period of leave. Despite home advantage the Palace game should be a tough match as Neil Warnock’s side are thriving despite their financial hardships. They are unbeaten in six games and sit just outside the play-off places.