Newcastle United were a point better off. Technically, at least. But it did not feel like it at full-time as Fabian Schar booted the ball away in frustration following the Magpies' 1-1 draw against West Ham at St James' Park. If ever a reaction showed how far Newcastle had come in a week where Eddie Howe's side reached their first League Cup final since 1976.
Callum Wilson admitted his side 'stopped doing the things that brought us success' after the striker fired the hosts ahead against the Hammers on Saturday in the third minute. Not only did Newcastle fail to go for the throat after such an electric start, but the hosts also conceded a sloppy equaliser when Lucas Paqueta levelled from a corner after the half-hour mark. It proved to be West Ham's only shot on target.
Yet this was still a night where fourth-placed Newcastle set a club record after going 16 games unbeaten in the Premier League to keep their place in the top four. Newcastle, in the process, hit the 40-point mark, the so-called 'magical' points tally, which was a feat that would have been quietly celebrated not so long ago when the black-and-whites battled relegation.
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This was also a night where Howe's team conceded their first league goal since November. Yes, November. In the corresponding fixture last season, which was one of Newcastle's final home games before the takeover, the Magpies shipped four against West Ham.
Freddie Woodman was in goal that day; Matt Ritchie and Jacob Murphy started as converted wing-backs; and Ciaran Clark, Federico Fernandez and Emil Krafth lined up in the heart of defence. Much has changed at the club since then - in so many ways - to the point where even a draw against West Ham felt like three points dropped - let alone two.
“Because of our form this season, these types of games feel like defeats," Howe told reporters. "That's why it's important when you’re in my shoes to see the bigger perspective and see other things.
"I have to make sure the players don’t overreact to what is a point. People may say it’s a disappointment, but it depends on what context you’re looking at it in. You can see four draws in five or you can see 16 games unbeaten.
"I like to be very realistic and look at objectively and not rose-tint it, but I can’t criticise the players for what they’ve delivered this week or what they’ve delivered today. We would love to have won the game, but it’s still been a very positive week for us."
It was a week where Newcastle booked their date at Wembley, but this game against West Ham was the first of three crucial league fixtures before that cup final against Manchester United later this month - and a lot was riding on it. Jamaal Lascelles wrote in his programme notes how Newcastle were 'capable of achieving something special in the Premier League' while Kieran Trippier reminded his team-mates 'we need to be on it' because of how 'relentless' the top-flight is.
Newcastle, after all, were flying in fourth place and the Magpies had the chance to strengthen their grip on a place in the race for Europe. Therefore, you can see why the thoughts of players and staff immediately turned to the visit of West Ham from literally the second that team photograph was taken in the dressing room after the semi-final win against Southampton on Tuesday night.
Newcastle may have been missing suspended talisman Bruno Guimaraes, whose absence was felt, but the hosts certainly started the game like they meant business. There was less than a minute on the clock when Trippier rolled the ball through Emerson's legs down the right to Almiron. Almiron appeared to have kept the ball in play as the Paraguay international cut the ball back to Willock, who lashed it into the net following some deft footwork inside the box. However, Willock's joy was short-lived and a VAR check found that the ball had crossed the byline when Almiron cut it back.
Yet, rather than getting frustrated, Newcastle responded impressively as West Ham struggled to find their bearings. Sean Longstaff nicked the ball off Lucas Paqueta in the middle of the park in the third minute and played a superb through ball to send Wilson racing clear one-on-one. Wilson had not scored since October but you would not have known it after the Newcastle number nine coolly slotted the ball past Fabianski into the net.
It was a perfect start but Newcastle, crucially, did not press home their advantage. West Ham, inspired by skipper Declan Rice, started to gain a foothold in the middle of the park.
West Ham fired a warning shot in the 31st minute when Paqueta's deflected effort went just wide and the visitors duly levelled from the resulting corner. Rice's corner sailed over a half a dozen Newcastle heads and the unmarked Paqueta had the second he needed to take a touch at the back post and sidefoot the ball past Nick Pope.
The momentum of the game shifted, but Newcastle wrestled back control after the break and Howe's side were camped in West Ham's half for large periods. Howe needed someone to deliver that final blow - Joelinton had even resorted to diving inside the box before the hour mark - and the Newcastle boss turned to his bench in the 69th minute to throw Anthony Gordon on for his debut.
The lively Gordon quickly made an impact and Almiron's pass picked out the new arrival in the centre circle just inside West Ham's half in the 76th minute. It did not look like there was a chance on but Gordon took a touch before opening West Ham's defence up with a clever through ball to send Wilson clear. Just as Wilson was about to pull the trigger, though, Nayef Aguerd made a fantastic recovery tackle to deny the England international.
It felt like a big moment, but there was still time for another huge opportunity for Wilson late on when the striker got his head on the end of Trippier's teasing free-kick - only his effort was straight at Fabianski. There was to be no grandstand finish. Not this time, anyway.
Our 48-page Carabao Cup final special is available to pre-order now! Click HERE to get your copy as Newcastle United prepare for a historic day out at Wembley. Also available to purchase through local participating retailers from February 15.
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