Stalemate keeps Newcastle in trouble

LONDON (AFP) - Newcastle remain mired firmly in the Premier League relegation battle after a dour 0-0 draw at West Ham on Saturday.

With relegation rivals Wigan and Aston Villa both winning, Alan Pardew's side are now just three points clear of the bottom three with only two matches left.

Pardew will have been grateful to see his team at least stop the rot after last weekend's 6-0 thrashing by Liverpool.

The club's worst home defeat for 88 years sparked talk of dressing room rifts between Newcastle's large contingent of French players and the rest of the squad, but they gave a committed display at Upton Park, even if they badly lacked a cutting edge.

The Magpies were shored up at the back with the return of captain Fabricio Coloccini from a knee injury that had sidelined him since Feb 24.

Newcastle winger Hatem Ben Arfa, starting his first game since March 7, almost caught West Ham goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen off guard as he fired in a free-kick from an acute angle that fizzed over the top.

Papiss Demba Cisse went close to opening the scoring when he latched on to Yohan Cabaye's ball and poked a shot past Jaaskelainen.

It looked to be enough to give the visitors a crucial lead but West Ham defender Winston Reid managed to hack the ball away, with assistant referee Matthew Wilkes adjudging that the whole of the ball had not crossed the line.

Moments later Ben Arfa powered through the Hammers' defence but his shot was too close to Jaaskelainen, who saved with ease.

Former Newcastle forward Andy Carroll had his first chance of the game just three minutes after half-time, but the on-loan Liverpool striker headed Matt Jarvis' cross wide from five yards.

West Ham midfielder Kevin Nolan, also playing against his old club, had a second half shot well saved by Rob Elliot, who then tipped Jarvis' effort behind.

Carroll's clever turn and shot forced another good save out of Elliot as West Ham pushed for the opening goal, but neither team could make the breakthrough.

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