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Debuchy sees red as Newcastle start 2014 on a losing note
Full-time: West Bromwich Albion 1 Newcastle United 0
IT'S traditional to have a first foot on New Year's Day, but perhaps someone should have told Mathieu Debuchy that you don't have to tackle with a second as well just because it's the first day of the year.
Debuchy's 63rd-minute dismissal for a reckless two-footed challenge was the decisive incident as Newcastle started 2014 on a losing note at the Hawthorns.
A game that had been drifting towards a goalless conclusion suddenly tilted in West Brom's favour, and while the Magpies held out for almost 25 minutes with ten men, their resistance was eventually broken with three minutes left.
Tim Krul chopped down Matej Vydra in the area, and substitute Saido Berahino converted from the penalty spot to ensure Newcastle would suffer their second defeat in the space of four days.
Their festive blip should not overshadow the forward strides made in the first half of the season, but furtive talk of the Champions League has been well and truly shelved and Alan Pardew's side now find themselves five points adrift of a Europa League spot. Suddenly, Saturday's FA Cup third-round tie with Cardiff looks like an extremely important fixture in terms of ambitions for the rest of the season.
Debuchy will play no part in it, and the Frenchman only has himself to blame for a dismissal that was an unnecessary as it was unexpected.
There had barely been a bad tackle in the match when the full-back launched himself into a two-footed lunge in an attempt to win a loose ball ahead of Claudio Yacob.
He won the ball cleanly, but you simply cannot tackle like that in this day and age, and referee Lee Mason was right to determine that he was not in control of his actions. A straight red card followed, and only Debuchy will know why he felt the need to be so unnecessarily aggressive.
Would Newcastle have claimed at least a point had it remained 11 against 11? Probably, given that prior to to Debuchy's dismissal, the game appeared to be meandering to a goalless draw with both sides lacking sharpness as they played their third game in a week.
In hindsight, Alan Pardew should probably have made more changes in an attempt to freshen things up. The Newcastle boss only made one switch to the side that lost against Arsenal – Shola Ameobi replacing Vurnon Anita – and the change was hardly an effective one with the visitors falling into the trap of launching a succession of increasingly aimless long balls in Ameobi's direction.
The ploy didn't really work when the Magpies tried it on a number of occasions last season, so it was hardly a surprise that it proved ineffective again.
Tactically, Newcastle must have tried about four different formations in an attempt to inject some energy and creativity into their play, but nothing really worked and their attacking efforts were hampered by the deep-lying role assigned to Yohan Cabaye.
Cabaye spent most of the game playing in a quarterback-style role, picking up the ball from the back four and spreading play with a succession of driven long-range passes.
The ploy enabled Debuchy and Davide Santon to push on down their respective flanks, but also meant Newcastle were robbed of Cabaye's surging runs into the box.
Sissoko tried to make up the attacking numbers when possible, but as the game progressed, the temptation to look long became harder to resist.
Ironically, it was long ball that almost led to a Newcastle opener midway through the first half, with Mike Williamson winning a headed knock-down and Cabaye dragging a half-volley wide.
West Brom had created two long-range sighters for Morgan Amalfitano by that stage, but the managerless hosts lacked confidence in possession and were over-reliant on Stephane Sessegnon, who offered little from the hole behind Nicolas Anelka.
Nevertheless, the Baggies created two decent headed opportunities in the 15 minutes before the interval, only for both to be spurned.
First, Jonas Olsson nodded Amalfitano's corner wide of the upright from eight yards, then an unmarked Chris Brunt failed to find the target after Amalfitano ghosted behind Santon on Albion's right-hand side.
Worse was to follow on the stroke of half-time, with Anelka stabbing over from close range after the impressive Amalfitano, who is the brother of Newcastle outcast Romain, again exploited a gap down Newcastle's left.
Acknowledging his side's lack of creativity, Pardew introduced Hatem Ben Arfa for Yoan Gouffran at the break and switched to a 4-4-2 formation with the substitute on the left-hand side.
The change enabled Loic Remy to play more centrally, although the striker, who has now scored in just one of his last eight games, was well shackled by the Albion defence and curled his best chance over the crossbar on the hour mark.
Newcastle were threatening to assume the upper hand at that stage, but the complexion of the game changed markedly when Debuchy was dismissed.
To make matters worse for the Magpies, who switched Sissoko to right-back, Fabricio Coloccini was also forced to depart minutes later with a knee injury that is set to sideline him for more than a month.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa came on, and as the final quarter of the game ticked by, Newcastle's defending became increasingly desperate.
Krul was quick off his line to deny Sessegnon after Yanga-Mbiwa was turned far too easily in the 73rd minute, and the goalkeeper had to get down well to deny Berahino at his near post shortly after.
Liam Ridgewell spurned a glorious 82nd-minute opening when he side-footed wide from inside the six-yard box, but the hosts finally broke the deadlock with three minutes left.
Chris Brunt's through ball sent Vydra racing clear, and Krul chopped the substitute to the floor as he attempted to round him. Berahino stepped up to convert the spot-kick, and ensure Newcastle's New Year would have an unhappy start.
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