By James Wrigley
Sport | WEST HAM UNITED 2 NEWCASTLE UNITED 2
They may be battling to top their own mini-league but, as the dust settled on this game, the focus inevitably shifted to the part West Ham and Newcastle might play in helping to decide the grown ups' prize. Such is the lot of the also-rans. West Ham visit Manchester United on Saturday, with Newcastle hosting Chelsea two days later.
Kevin Keegan must be longing for a return to the days when his team's involvement in the title race hinted at something more tangible - such as the time Newcastle were pushing United for the trophy before finishing second in 1996. For Alan Curbishley, his opposite number on Saturday, it will be a relief not to have to win at Old Trafford to stay up, a feat they managed on the final day of last season.
"We've not got the pressure on us like we did last year but we want to finish the season as strongly as we can so we'll give it our best shot," said Curbishley. "What has amazed me and everybody is the resilience of Chelsea. They'll be ruing the fact that Wigan scored in the last minute to draw the other week. Man United, week-in-week-out, perhaps think they should have had it wrapped up by now. It's all to play for."
Keegan had just watched his side extend their unbeaten run to seven games, despite having to claw their way back from a two-goal deficit after Mark Noble's and Dean Ashton's goals in the first 23 minutes suggested West Ham might run away with it. Obafemi Martins and Geremi brought Newcastle level as the interval approached, a turnaround that had both managers hailing the competitive nature of the Premier League.
"It's a great League, we're privileged to be part of it," said Keegan. "There's an integrity to it. If we were in Spain now we'd be getting an offer of a bonus from Manchester United for beating Chelsea - definitely. It happens and it's allowed as well. That can never happen here. If we beat Chelsea it's because we deserve to and if they beat us they deserve to. If Manchester United win the title they'll have deserved to and the same for Chelsea."
Noble put West Ham ahead after 10 minutes with an emphatic finish on the half-volley from George McCartney's cross; Ashton doubled their lead after turning David Edgar inside out before slotting the ball into Steve Harper's bottom-right corner. West Ham's young centre-back James Tomkins lost concentration as Joey Barton played in Martins for Newcastle's first goal and, in first-half stoppage time, Geremi got his head to a Martins shot for a fortuitous equaliser.
"I was not worried when we went 2-0 down," said the Cameroon midfielder. "At the beginning of the season, I would have been but now we have a lot more confidence. We have a manager who says whatever happens, continue to fight and that is what happened." United will be hoping he continues to obey his manager's battle cry against his old Chelsea team-mates next week.
Goals: Noble 10 (1-0); Ashton 23 (2-0); Martins 42 (2-1); Geremi 45 (2-2).
West Ham (4-4-2): Green; Pantsil, Tomkins, Neill, McCartney; Faubert (Solano, 90), Noble, Parker, Ljungberg (Boa Morte, 21); Ashton, Zamora (Cole, 68). Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Mullins.
Newcastle (4-3-3): Harper; Beye, Taylor, Edgar (Diatta, 90), Enrique; Geremi, Butt, Barton; Martins, Owen, Viduka (Smith, 82). Substitutes not used: Forster (gk), Duff, Carroll.
Referee: U Rennie (South Yorkshire).
Booked: West Ham Faubert, Pantsil; Newcastle Beye, Butt, Martins.
Man of the match: Parker.