Newcastle United 1 Norwich City 0: There was a moment yesterday, after Hatem Ben Arfa had been substituted and following a Mike Williamson sliced clearance, that a supporter, within earshot of Alan Pardew, berated the Newcastle manager for taking the wrong player off.
Pardew turned slowly, with a face like thunder, to stare down his detractor and vociferously tell him to shut up. Afterwards it also felt that he was still defending his side, and there was something to admire in that, if not in the game itself, as he admitted.
Newcastle are two points off fifth place in sixth and this win, however bitty and unpleasant on the eye, stopped a run of four games without one. They have not played well for a while and the fans' unrest (there were pockets of jeers when Ben Arfa was substituted) present once more the paradox of this football club. Sometimes winning is not enough, and Pardew was rounding on that ideology as much as defending his own players.
"It could well be one of our most important results of the season," he insisted. "My players are absolutely elated with the win. Mike Ashley said after the Sunderland game that it was fantastic theatre. It wasn't much theatre today, but what there was was a real professionalism on the pitch. Both teams put in a full stint.
"The flair players could have done and shown a bit more je ne sais quoi but it was a battle and it's always good to win a battle. I'm really proud of the players today. We knew in the dressing room we weren't balanced. We knew we had to give a little bit more and we did that.
"Everybody is pulling to trying to get us this finish we need. We are going for Europe, that's how important this win is. It's the last 10 games, we have won the 10th game if you like, it makes the task do-able."
He added: "We are not firing on all cylinders. If you win when you're not at your best, it is a great attribute."
The fear, heard in the general grumblings among the home crowd, is the feeling that the side may be dipping for the line too early. Nine games remain for them to hoist themselves into automatic Europa League qualification through a fifth-place finish.
That they won yesterday was down to the foresight Newcastle showed to sign Papiss Cissé during the January transfer window, at £9m the most expensive player to move to an English club in that month. His has been a strange transition into the Premier League but essentially it is paying dividends: his delightful 11th minute winner was his third goal in five appearances, but his arrival has coincided with a loss of fluency.
For that failing he was made an unused substitute in the last-minute defeat at Arsenal last week, and perhaps that demotion inspired such a first half here in which he scored, and on two other occasions went close, firstly failing to clear John Ruddy with a second-minute lob and then late in the same half when his shot was saved by the Norwich goalkeeper's left hand after he had been sent through by Jonas Gutierrez. Ruddy did well to deny Demba Ba in a half in which Newcastle dominated.
After the break they were not, and perhaps the two records Norwich now carry with them are more to blame for those home grumblings. They failed to keep a clean sheet yesterday for the 29th consecutive time away in the Premier League, a new record. It was also the 15th time they have played on a Sunday in their four seasons in the top division – so far without a single win.
Such stats can raise expectations in home supporters, but it was Norwich who looked the more likely to score, with Tim Krul's double save from Anthony Pilkington and Zak Whitbread particularly impressive.
"Our play deserved something," said manager Paul Lambert. "I'm not disappointed with the way we played. We took the game to someone who is playing very well and the performance was very good. We never sat back, we tried to go and win the match. On another day we might have got something.
"That is good as we have played. They don't need me to sit here and say well done. I have a great belief in the lads."
Newcastle: KRUL 7/10; SIMPSON 6; WILLIAMSON 5; COLOCCINI 6; GUTIERREZ 6; BEN ARFA 6; GUTHRIE 6; PERCH 7; CABAYE 6; CISSE 7; BA 6
Norwich: RUDDY 7; DRURY 6; WHITBREAD 5; WARD 6; NAUGHTON 6; FOX 6; PILKINGTON 6; SURMAN 6; HOWSON 7; EBENNETT 7; MORISON 4
Scorer. Newcastle; Cissé 11
Substitutes: Newcastle United Santon 5 (Ben Arfa, 63), Shola Ameobi 6 (Cissé, 69), Gosling (Guthrie, 76). Norwich City Holt (Howson, 77), Hoolahan (Drury, 82), R Martin (Pilkington, 85).
Booked: Norwich E Bennett, Whitbread, Naughton.
Man of the match Perch. Match rating 3/10.
Possession: Newcastle 51% Norwich 49%.
Attempts on target: Newcastle 10 Norwich 5.
Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire). Attendance 47,833.