David Moyes never used to be a byword for 3-2 scorelines but this time the improbable entertainer came out on the wrong side of the drama. If much of the action in an extraordinary game felt illogical, perhaps the eventual conclusion will be that West Ham will not be in the Champions League nor Newcastle in the Championship next season.
West Ham missed the opportunity to go third, remain fourth but could be fifth before they play again. “No frustration whatsoever,” said Moyes, a little implausibly. His other verdict – “a chance lost” – felt more convincing. But Steve Bruce’s renascent Newcastle have back-to-back-wins and a nine-point cushion on Fulham. Safety beckons, even if the path to it felt odd.
A match where both sides conceded twice in several minutes of madness revealed self-destructive streaks. For the third consecutive game, however, the much-maligned Bruce had a scoring substitute.
For the second in a row at St James’ Park, it was Joe Willock and, when Newcastle appeared to have handed 10-man West Ham a point, he took his temporary employers above Burnley and Brighton.
“This job comes with a government health warning,” smiled Bruce. “It was difficult but I am relieved. We redeemed ourselves.” They did so spiritedly.
Jacob Murphy was denied by Ben Johnson’s goal-line clearance before the defender was outjumped by Willock as the replacement headed in Matt Ritchie’s cross. It gave Newcastle a rare double: West Ham have been so consistent that their only other league defeats have come to the big six, but they have lost home and away to Newcastle.
But the Hammers’ last four games have produced 21 goals. They had rushed into 3-0 leads in the previous three. This time, they made the shambolic start. Three of their defensive pillars blundered, two to gift goals, one to get a red card. Issa Diop and Lukasz Fabianski were errant, Craig Dawson expelled.
Dawson had been a symbolic figure in West Ham’s surprise rise. Suddenly, he looked a cumbersome figure whose last two Premier League campaigns had culminated in relegation.
Meanwhile, Allan Saint-Maximin, the catalytic substitute at Burnley, performed with a verve to support Bruce’s theory their season would have been much better had he not contracted coronavirus. “You take your top players away from the front end of the pitch and it becomes a struggle,” he said.
For the opener, Saint-Maximin embarked on a winding run, but the resulting shot was scuffed, affording Diop time to get back. Yet he and Fabianski contrived to get in each other’s way and the ball bounced in off one West Ham centre-back’s heel.
Another one endured a different sort of ignominy: Dawson had already been booked for fouling Joelinton when he coughed up possession with a poor touch and ploughed into the Brazilian again in the centre circle. Kevin Friend first played an advantage and then came back to dismiss the defender.
Then Fabianski spilled Ritchie’s corner at the feet of Joelinton. The £40 million forward has scarcely been prolific but even he could not miss: after only three Premier League goals, he now has two in as many games. “Two soft goals,” lamented Moyes. Their defensive record has deteriorated but he said: “Today we should look at more individual mistakes than anything else.”
“We were arguably better against 11 men,” Bruce lamented. And, as Moyes noted: “The players showed great character. They did a great job with 10 men.”
Theirs was a terrific comeback. Diop scored a cathartic header from Jarrod Bowen’s cross. Then Ciaran Clark’s arm was needlessly high, above his head, as he handled when jumping with Tomas Soucek. Jesse Lingard converted the resulting penalty but he hobbled off and Dawson is banned for Saturday’s clash with Chelsea. West Ham were already deprived of Declan Rice and Michail Antonio and Aaron Cresswell; it will take another tale of the unlikely to get a top-four finish from here.