Newcastle had better know what they are doing. Looking for periods of this match like the most languidly unconcerned of relegation-menaced Premier League middleweights, Alan Pardew's team took what might yet be a crucial point from an occasionally sleepy 0-0 draw at West Ham.
Except that, with Wigan Athletic winning at West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle are in a spot of hypothetical bother. Unexpectedly, Wigan have Premier League safety in their own hands. Whereas should Sunderland get a point on Monday night and Wigan win and score two goals against Swansea the following day, Newcastle will find themselves in the bottom three. A few months ago the talk was of a bid to win the Europa League with Premier League safety assured. Instead Pardew faces a fraught final fortnight.
"It's a great win for Wigan and it's put extra pressure on us but you can only do what you can and I thought we were terrific in the first half," Newcastle's manager said, showing an admirably one-eyed ability to be half right.
Newcastle were fairly dismal throughout, having arrived at Upton Park already in a slough of late season entropy, not just on a run of one win in eight games but also assailed by some disturbing noises off following the wretched 6-0 thrashing at home to Liverpool last week.
After that performance much was made – much of it laughably broad brush and even a little xenophobic – of Newcastle's mob-handed French contingent, with the suggestion of cliques within the team and even some bizarre talk that professional footballers from France (world and European champions within the last 15 years) might not have the competitive spunk to cope with the Premier League endgame.
"We dispelled some of the stupid myths floating around us, that there's a rift, and we put that to bed today," was Pardew's response after a match in which he fielded four of his 10 available Frenchmen in a team who appeared throughout the first half to be unified only in their sense of shared langour against rugged opponents.
Unchanged for the fourth match in a row, West Ham also boasted the looming threat of Andy Carroll, who led the attack gamely against his hometown club, offering some evidence of a doggedly improving finesse on the ball to go with his aerial power. With Ray Lewington watching from the stands, there has even been some talk of a possible England recall. "With his contribution and his link-up play, he's putting defenders under pressure," said West Ham's assistant manager Neil McDonald. "Why shouldn't he be considered?"
Those strengths were apparent immediately as Carroll caused a degree of aerial panic in the Newcastle defence in the opening minute; Fabricio Coloccini, returning to the team from injury, stretching to clear. Otherwise it was a low-fi and almost entirely uneventful first half, enlivened only by Newcastle's goal-that-might-have-been after 20 minutes.
Mapou Yang-Mbiwa fed a simple pass from the left to Papiss Cissé, who found himself scampering in on goal. The 27-year-old's shot beat Jussi Jaskelainen but was hooked off the line by Winston Reid.
Television replays suggested the ball had crept just over, albeit in real time this was almost impossible to spot. Matters were not helped by the linesman on that side falling over at the vital moment, leaving the decision to the referee, who simply could not see clearly enough to be sure. "By West Ham's reaction it looked like it was in," Pardew said.
Cissé might have settled the issue by hitting his shot more cleanly but either way it felt like a troublingly ominous moment of ill fortune. After which, as Upton Park dozed in the sun, there was a tangible sense of both teams falling into a late-season slumber.
News of Wigan going a goal behind against West Brom at The Hawthorns seemed only to deepen the torpor as the first half fizzled towards its end, with Newcastle in particular producing 20 minutes of football almost entirely without urgency, an end-of-term display with the term, here and elsewhere, still very much in its vital stages.
Instead it was West Ham who emerged energised after the break, the eager Matt Jarvis floating over a series of crosses, the best of which skimmed the top of Carroll's head in front of goal as the 24-year-old leapt prodigiously, soaring across a static defence like a man on a hang glider screaming in to land.
Moments later the West Ham captain and former Newcastle midfielder Kevin Nolan drew a good save from Rob Elliot before hitting the post in the scuffle that followed.
As Carroll had another late header blocked from Gary O'Neil's corner, news filtered through that Wigan had taken the lead at West Brom, albeit without any notable effect on Newcastle's own urgency levels as the game petered out to an inconclusive and slightly baffling draw.