Must win. A phrase going no-where quickly, one that will define much of the ‘narrative’ between now and May.  Literally, those two words aren’t true. That comes only on the occasions before safety threatens to become mathematically unobtainable.

But Newcastle United didn’t win. Again.  And while Joao Pedro’s late equaliser may not be terminal, it felt it. News delivered with head bowed and no eye-contact; ‘we will try everything, but suggest ordering your affairs’.

The goal felt inevitable too, the price you pay for retreat, for a lack of adventure.  For – frankly – not being good enough.

And was anyone really surprised when the young forward – who’d spent much of the afternoon in physical tête-à-tête with Kieran Trippier – rose to meet substitute Kiko Femenia’s superb cross and earn Watford a point?  No.

Sure, there was hope, verging on desperation, that Allan Saint Maximin’s moment of individual brilliance was going to bring three precious points. Would it have been warranted? Well, it was the only shot on target United mustered. A second never really looked likely.

Fleeting glances at the clock became more frequent. The cold seeping through the concrete under foot had almost reached the heart. The tension could have been physically punched. And then it was punctured by a gut-blow.  St James’s Park fell deafly silent. All, that is, bar a tiny corner up in the gods who celebrated wildly.

It was, after all, the result they came for; Ben Foster’s time-wasting tactics virtually from kick-off evidenced that.  It arrested a seven-game losing streak too and,  with (potentially) a trip to Burnley on Tuesday, before a home game with Norwich on Friday night, a season-defining six days has started just fine for Claudio Ranieri.

Difficult to argue that they didn’t deserve their share either. Alright, Watford offered little in the opening forty-five but Josh King, Emmanuel Dennis and Joao Pedro came into the game as time passed. And goal scoring has not been their issue.

Instead it’s their defence that has had a case to answer. Still no Premier League clean sheet but signs of improvement certainly. Today Ranieri handed a trio of debuts to goal preventing acquisitions; Hassane Kamara, Samir and Edo Kambeye. None had played English football previously, all had relatively comfortable afternoons.

So too did Jeremey Ngakia at right back, other than a moment shortly after the interval where Saint-Maximin dispossessed him. Seconds later, having seemingly ignited, a left-footed strike screamed beyond Foster.

It was an afternoon displaying Saint-Maximin’s virtues and pitfalls in heaped tablespoons. Such was his first-half ‘effort’, few murmurs would have been raised had he not re-appeared.

With a player of his talent – and there is plenty of that – there has to be an acceptance of the jagged with the smooth. Put simply, if he didn’t frustrate so, the Frenchman would not be on Tyneside. But at times, his decision-making is beyond belief, trying to be a maverick deep in his own half (and losing the ball) but refusing take on a full-back on the outside when one might expect. When he lay on the turf toward the East Stand claiming a stray arm rather than gather himself and get back on-side, home fans made it clear what they thought.

One thing Watford did excellently was halt any potential post-lead momentum. Almost straight after Saint-Maximin’s goal, Sissoko cynically slid through the back of him when he threatened to burst away. A booking came as did a limp. It seemed to suck a little life.

Both sides were guilty a sloppiness of passing throughout; there was little of beauty on display.  Jonjo Shelvey on the stretch gave away a free-kick in a dangerous area in the opening minutes, which thankfully came to nothing. Likewise, Joelinton offered Josh King a chance to strike, only for a daisy-cutter to skim harmlessly wide.

Otherwise, Foster had whatever the opposite of an action-packed afternoon is. Joelinton crashed an effort into the underside of the bar from close range. Not long afterwards, he failed to find the target following a clever short corner routine between Ryan Fraser and Sean Longstaff.

Who knows, had one gone in, but despite those misses, Joelinton is the least deserving of criticism. Judgment is reserved on Chris Wood, but it is clear there will need to be adaption on both sides.

And so, an hour in, Watford were starting to enjoy themselves down the flanks. Paul Dummett – largely excellent – inevitably tired. Having gone 237 days with a Premier League appearance, a full ninety was a big ask.  Trippier too began to tire, while Shelvey and Longstaff – a duo whose energy is often static – flagged.

There was a warning fired when Jamaal Lascelles surrendered possession, and Emmanuel Dennis burst toward goal. A revelation since his summer arrival from Club Brugge, the Nigerian looked to have got himself in a position to curl home. Instead, he fed Moussa Sissoko. Fortunately, we all know how that ends.

Maybe then, Newcastle would get away with it? No. That isn’t how this works.

Joelinton summed it up after the final whistle. Having deservedly taken the plaudits for being, once more, the black and white heartbeat, he turned to head for the tunnel, and let out a roar of frustration. He knew. We all knew. If survival depends on beating those around you, Newcastle are failing. Failing and falling.

Norwich’s victory over Everton sees Eddie Howe’s men end the day bottom-but-one. The manager isn’t immune to criticism here by the way. He is getting plenty right, but there also has to be some responsibility for an unacceptable finale.

Onto the next must win then?

SAM DALLING

FT REACTIONS

Not sure there’s a way back after that. Twice this season we’ve lead and failed to beat Watford. In all honesty, they are better than us. Devoid of ideas and only the one trick from a one trick pony prevented defeat. Our failures in the final third put added pressure on a far too accommodating defence.

We provided our new striker with next to nothing nobody got near to him for any possible lay-offs though I’m not sure who was supposed to be supporting him. Joelinton often out wide with ASM and between them providing little threat bar the goal.

Only plus for me was the link-up between Trippier and Fraser, though again, final ball was lacking.

Very,very worrying. 

STEVE WALLWORK

First half – lots of endeavour, great noise. A silly 2/3 mins of trying to let them into it. Joelinton could’ve scored three. ASM awful.

Second half – scored a brilliant goal through ASM. One chance they got in, Dubravka saved. Then the nerves kicked in. They’ve forgotten how to win. Shelvey, Lascelles not leading and passing the ball to Watford more than their own men. Midfield knackered. No legs. Almiron comes on, gets turned, ball in, goal.

Luckily Sissoko missed the one chance they had in between otherwise it would have been worse. We’re down now for me.

STEPHEN ORD 

Premier League football returned to St James Park for the first time this year as Watford were the latest visitors to Newcastle for Matchday 22 of this season’s campaign.

Coming into today’s fixture, Claudio Ranieri has won seven of the 11 matches against Newcastle in all competitions The last Newcastle player to score against a team managed by Ranieri was none other than Alan Shearer in April 2004 when Newcastle beat Chelsea 2-1. Eddie Howe is unbeaten in three fixtures against his managerial opponent today.

The game got underway and apart from a risky challenge on Juraj Kucka by Jonjo Shelvey just outside the box in the opening five minutes,the hosts had a sense of urgency about them with quick free kicks and throw ins. Newcastle were unlucky not to take the lead on the ten minute mark when the cross bar got in the way of a Joelinton flick from a deflected Ryan Fraser cross. Leaky defensive play by both sides presented opportunities to get in on goal and break the deadlock but neither side could get that final piece of play right to put the ball in the back of the net. Half Time Score 0-0.

Half Time Notes:Newcastle had the better chances but couldn’t capitalise by testing out Ben Foster more. Allan Saint-Maximin had a quiet first half for the Magpies, it’s almost like he has been sussed out by the opposition but Ryan Fraser and Kieran Trippier have linked up well. A big second half ahead.

The second half got underway with no changes to either side and it wasn’t long before the deadlock was broken just five minutes after the restart… Allan Saint-Maximin…the man who had little joy in the first half, battled for the ball on the left side of the half before dribbling his way into the box and smashed homea low left footed effort past the stranded Ben Foster. As the hour mark passed the intensity from Newcastle was still at maximum level and the home side were showing their appreciation. Dubravka was called into action three times in the space of five monies just after the hour mark with saves from Pedro and King’s efforts. On the 68th minute their was a warm applause from all around the ground as they remembered the life of Toon supporter David Harrison. Former Newcastle United midfielder Moussa Sissoko had Watford’s best chance of the game after being played in by Dennis but somehow fires well wide. Watford got their equaliser in the 87th minute through Joan Pedro who headed home from a cross out wide. Despite four minutes of injury time and the sold-out St James Park Faithful spurring their beloved team on, the full-timewhistle blew and the match finished 1-1.

Typical Newcastle United performance. Performed so well in every other area of the pitch but let down massively by the defence once more. The Magpies need to start turning the D’s on their record into W’s if they are going to stand any chance of staying up. As we have said all along, more reinforcements are needed but more so in defence and central midfield. Lascelles and Longstaff had poor games today and if I was Eddie Howe, I’d be considering wether their recent forms warrant a place in the squad for the next few fixtures. Saint-Maximin despite his goal in the second half, needs to perform more consistently and not turn up when it suits him. If Watford beat Burnley on Tuesday and Norwich on Friday then we are in deep trouble.

What’s Next? Watford travel to Burnley on Tuesday Evening for a 7:30 KOwhilst Newcastle travel to Elland Road to face Leeds United on Saturday for a traditional 3pm KO.

Newcastle United Line Up: M Dubravka, P Dummett, F Schar, J Lascelles, K Trippier, R Fraser (Murphy 74), Joelinton, J Shelvey, S Longstaff, A Saint-Maximin (Almiron 86), C Wood.

Newcastle United Bench:K Darlow, M Gillespie, J Lewis, E Krafth, M Ritchie, J Murphy, M Almiron, J Willock, E Anderson.

Watford Line Up: B Foster, H Kamara, Samir, C Cathcart, J Ngakia (Femenia 65), E Kayembe, M Sissoko, J Kucka (Cleverley 76), J Pedro, J King, E Dennis (Hernandez 85).

Watford Bench: D Bachmann, J Morris, K Femenia, C Kabasele, F Sierralta, T Cleverley, K Sema, O Tufan, C Hernandez.

Match Officials: Paul Tierney(Referee), Adrian Holmes & Scott Ledger (Assistants), Josh Smith (Fourth Official), John Brooks (VAR), James Mainwaring (Assistant VAR).

Match Attendance: 52,223

JACK SUTTON @jsuttonwrites