Newcastle United 1 – Leeds United 1 

What a day for football. Tyneside was putting on a show for the Sky cameras on Friday night, a game which had the potential to get very toxic was played against a backdrop of sunshine that had filled the beer gardens of the city since well before 5pm.

Leeds had a bit of an injury crisis in defence and we had a bit of a confidence crisis throughout our team. Setting up with Isaac Hayden at centre back (again) wasn’t what was needed and by playing more defenders, against a high press, we seemed to be inviting pressure on ourselves. Karl Darlow returning after a mysterious injury to Freddie Woodman was a significant personnel boost, the young keeper simply hasn’t looked like he belonged. Hopefully he gets another chance and can seize it.

The game started with a lot of noise from the ground, with a number of well oiled voices keen to make themselves heard. However, before we knew it we were allowing Leeds to attack at will. Matt Ritchie has been an excellent servant for the club, but he’s an easy target now for teams. Balls out to our left back slot, were the out ball every time for Leeds.

The goal when it came for Leeds was odd, in timing as lights were held up for Gary Speed but also clearly a cross but with enough bend to make the far corner. The midfield runner seemed to leave the ball so it settled in the Gallowgate net. Cue loud noise against the manager and owner. A failed attempt from a couple of people in the Strawberry corner to enter the pitch, lots of throwing of paper aeroplanes that didn’t make the pitch.

Bruce cut a red faced figure on the sidelines barking out orders, but the players seemed to be talking more to Jones with Bruce present alongside. Ciaran Clark responded to Bruce shouting at him, by holding up his hands with a what can I do shrug.

ASM and Almiron were full of running though, Joelinton was winning headers and trying to bring people into play. Every time Leeds came forward you felt they could score, Phillips firing wide from the edge of the box and a couple of important blocks from Hayden and Darlow keeping us in the game. However, each time we came forward you felt we could score. The farcical decision by Mike Dean to book Almiron after he was fouled three times and then went down giving fans another villain to berate.

Then we scored. ASM I felt was trying to beat the Leeds defence by himself – he’d previously got away twice down the right only for Almiron to completely miss the target when well placed and then manage tomiss the ball when it came in, Joelinton forced a save. Matt Ritchie had hit a post. This time he beat two or three on the edge of the area and then fired through to score. Cue relief and a feeling that we could win this game, Leeds did look vulnerable to the movement of GNR front three. The away end from that point on made little noise.

The second half was played like a proper game of football between two evenly matched teams. 19th v 17thisn’t where either side would want to be but it was obvious there wasn’t much between the sides when we went to 4-4-2/4-3-3. They played with a greater pace but Manquillo did a really good job of holding up down the right and Ritchie made a much better effort second half to keep goal side. There were still chances, Lascelles nearly helped them with a header that Darlow tipped away but we had grown into the game a bit more.

Anytime we pressed they looked nervous, like they hadn’t expected it. Longstaff and Hayden did a good job of trying to get Joelinton and Saint Max away every chance they could. Joelinton in particular had one of his better games in a Newcastle shirt, but his decision to square the ball to a Leeds player when he got into the box at one point shows what we have got. At least we played him in probably his correct position.

Saint Max had a shot that was tipped into the side netting, then another that was straight at the keeper. Longstaff took on a couple of long shots though neither threatened.

The game was crying out for us to make a move, bring on a sub to change the game. When Almiron went off, I felt that bringing on Gayle would have terrified their back four, Cooper didn’t like pace. The manager chose Ryan Fraser, I still don’t get what he brings us. He then brought Murphy on for Joelinton, that baffled me further.

The game came to an end with a mixture of emotions. Loud shouts against the manager continued in the final few moments and a draw was better but not enough. Leeds would probably be disappointed after the first half not to win, but I felt we were the better team the entire second half and a draw was probably fair.

The manager could breathe a little easier with the point and his bosses might be less likely to act now, but they should and we need to. The players gave everything last night but a better management team would have them in a 4 from the start. We were good enough to match a weakened Leeds, but two points from three winnable home games isn’t good enough.

Stephen Ord @smord84

FULL TIME REACTIONS: 

“Another game but the same old story. No plan, no adaptation for their strengths and weaknesses, just meticulous Steve rollling out his same old plan and hoping it would work for game number 307 of the Steve Bruce 5 at the back extravaganza!

Halftime and a welcome return to 4-4-2, please remember Steve has been dying to play 4 at the back. Still no point in having Dwight Gayle as he never gets on, still no point in Emil Krafth when he can’t do anything to contribute.

You’d hope this would be the end of Bruce, but I’ve a feeling it just prolongs him!”

Stephen Ord 

“Another failure to beat a very average side. Huff and puff with little else. Plan A being his only plan of note.  Biggest stand out to me being the failure to put Gayle on to attack a very very poor defence. Not one positive change to put pressure in them. A must win game turned in to a must not lose after 5 games. We know where this is heading. Bruce out”.

Steve Wallwork 

“Five games in and still no wins despite having played two sides at home we maybe should have expected to put away. Maybe. We are limited as an attacking force with the sole tactic appearing to be get it to ASM and hope he does something magical.

At this rate the lad will be fucked by November, if we’re lucky. 

I understand what Bruce says about the pace of his central defenders. Lascelles in particular looks lumbering and struggles to get back into position which means it is easier to sit deep.

I hear Joelinton getting praise but can’t help but think we have moved ASM to a centre forward position and Joelinton, bought for £40m as a replacement for Rondon and paraded as a No.9, playing as an ersatz inside-left.

That’s baffling but it is one Charnley and Nickson should answer as he is their signing. It’s all the more baffling as we had Fraser on the bench and that’s really his natural position. You can say the same about Lewis now, nowhere near. 

So, although big questions remain about Bruce and his tactics, motivational qualities and all round plan for Newcastle United,  he’s not the only one who has brought us to this pass. Then there’s the question of Dwight Gayle who cannot buy a minute on the pitch even as a substitute after being given a new contract. It makes no sense. 

But this was a good contest from two sides with personnel issues and very different calibres of managers. Bielsa is an intense workaholic with an obsessive attention to detail. Bruce is the worst of the old boy network of English coaches who gets by on the petrol fumes of his playing days as a Captain Courageous leader at Man Utd and buttressed by a nativist old pals act amongst pundits. 

I enjoyed the intensity of the competition. It was a game played in a brilliant atmosphere between two great English clubs with passionate supporters who benefit from an absence of the day-tripper tourist fans of Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool et al. 

St James’ Park at its regal best. Packed, edgy, full-throated on a muggy Friday night with those in attendance with a bit extra peeve inside them than normal.

This is a  wonderful place of dreams, pride, passion but all too often bitter, simmering resentment at unfulfilled potential. This grand arena deserves so much more.

Ashley Out!”

Michael Martin