With his future on the line, Steve McClaren raised eyebrows by selecting Cheik Tioté ahead of Henri Saivet and convinced himself that Steven Taylor would make a strong enough comeback to help nurse Fabricio Coloccini and Rolando Aarons through 95 minutes.
Admittedly a desperately disappointing West Bromwich Albion proved most accommodating guests but Taylor, Tioté and Aarons offered compelling contradictions of the received wisdom suggesting they are surplus to requirements on Tyneside these days.
“The heroes were Steven, Cheiky and Rolando,” acknowledged a mightily relieved McClaren.
“You wonder what reaction you’ll get because we’ve had words since Wednesday.
“But with Taylor and Tioté we had fight and character on the field. Their spirit is exactly what we need. If you get that from those two, the rest follow. They’re so aggressive in the way they play. Tioté has only been back training with us for two days but he’s 100% committed and, if he keeps his composure and passes simply, he’s a very good player. I hope he stays now.
“Colo’s been on the treatment table with a swollen knee but he wanted to play. It epitomises his leadership and character. Mitro has his critics but he’s 21-years-old, he leads the line and he fights. He’s doing two hours’ extra training every day.”