Newcastle United 0, Albion 0

Albion are inching their way towards Premier League safety.

There were more pluses than minuses to be gleaned from an uneventful stalemate at St James' Park.

A halt to the run of four straight away defeats - which included Spurs and Chelsea - represents progress for Chris Hughton on the third anniversary of his appointment and for his players.

Hughton had been beaten on his three previous returns to Newcastle, twice in the Premier League with Norwich and last season with the Seagulls.

His former club also won at the Amex on their way to pipping Albion to the title.

This time around Hughton's side have taken four points off Newcastle following the narrow home victory in September.

The three point gap between them in the bottom half of the table is a fair reflection.

The Argus: There are more concerns for Rafa Benitez than Hughton (above), although both are dependent on an effective January transfer window to improve the prospects of survival.

A competitive, low-quality contest for the level revealed nothing about either side that we did not already know.

Both are strong defensively, which has spared them the kind of drubbings encountered more regularly by some of the established Premier League clubs around them.

The problem is in the final third, where they are impotent.

Albion have now gone eight hours and 31 minutes without an away goal since Glenn Murray's winner at Swansea.

The Seagulls were eighth then, which was always going to be flattering. They have only slipped four places, despite one victory in ten matches, which emphasises how many others in the congested scrap to stay up are also struggling for three points.

Newcastle's run is worse, one win in 12. The point was their first at home in six matches and the fifth in which they have drawn a blank.

No prizes for guessing then where the strengthening priority lies for both managers and the respective recruitment teams this month.

St James' Park should be a help to Newcastle. It becomes a hinderance with a squad of insufficient quality to satisfy the masses.

Albion, enjoying more spells of possession than they have been used to in most away games this season, were the more controlled, composed side.

The Newcastle players seemed inhibited by the desperate need for a home win and the palpable anxiety drifting down from the stands.

The Seagulls could, in fact should, have capitalised on it.

It is ultra-picky to be in any way critical of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk. Their primary job is to defend and the central pairing were outstanding in that respect yet again.

Goalscoring is not their role, but chipping in here and there could be so important to the cause. Both are towers of strength in the air and towering threats inside the opposition box.

Neither of them have made the most of it from set plays, Albion's likeliest route to goal in recent matches.

In the last home game against Watford, for example, Lewis Dunk headed just wide a great chance to double the lead and ease the risk of a slip-up.

This time it was mainly Duffy's turn, back at the ground where he made his Albion debut 17 months ago.

A perpetual danger to Newcastle from Pascal Gross's dead ball deliveries, The Irishman headed over the best of three opportunities from a corner just before the break.

The Argus: In the second half, another prodigious leap from a Gross corner led to Dunk (above) forcing Karl Darlow, deputising for the injured Rob Elliot, into a rare save with a header from close range.

Newcastle only came to life as an attacking force for a fleeting period after half-time. When Albion needed Mathew Ryan the Australian was equal to the task once more.

Ryan is proving to be an excellent acquisition between the posts, agile and pretty secure under the high ball, even though he is not the biggest of keepers.

He adjusted to keep out a shot by the fit-again Isaac Hayden when wrong-footed by a deflection. Ryan (below) also dived to his left to save a header from the otherwise well-shackled Dwight Gayle from Christian Atsu's cross to secure an eighth clean sheet.

The Argus: That was as much as Newcastle could muster after Benitez made seven amendments to the line-up which defended deep and doggedly to restrict runaway leaders Manchester City to a single goal three days earlier.

Hughton reverted to what he would currently regard as just about his strongest line-up with five changes to the side defeated at Chelsea.

Another more realistic assignment against Bournemouth at the Amex on Monday will determine the extent to which Albion have aided their cause over the brutal festive programme.