Watford 1 Newcastle United 1, Vicarage Road, Watford, 25/Sep/21. KO 15:00. 

When Jacob Murphy was sent racing through deep in injury-time, Newcastle fans just knew. Knew it should have been the winner. Knew for anyone else, at any other club, it would have been the winner. Knew that because this was Newcastle United, Murphy would fluff his lines. He duly did, and Watford nearly grabbed three points themselves.

Nothing against Murphy – although he is unlikely to sleep well tonight – this was about opportunity wasted. How many of the vociferous travelling fans truly believed a deserved three points would be made three?

This was a case of two dropped. Yes, it was comfortably Steve Bruce’s side’s best performance of the season. While that bar is pretty low but, credit where it’s due; it was a more than passable display. Nay, it was an encouraging one, full of energy and with a little verve.  But when you play like this and still don’t win – and against newly promoted opposition too – it begs the question of just how and when it will come?

Sean Longstaff’s first-half strike would have been a worthy winner. And it might have been but for a set-piece powered home by the head of Ismalia Sarr after the break.  Steve Bruce was right to be disappointed afterwards though. He claimed his team had created enough chances to win three games, and was probably right. 20 shots in total. But crucially just one goal.

The fast trains from London Euston were packed with Geordies. These are, despite the bleak football, the days missed during the last 18-months. Irrespective of what unfolds over 90 or so minutes on the pitch, the determination to have a bloody good time remains undiminished

There was a surprise in store too; Joe Willock was named in the starting XI a mere 24-hours after Bruce had confirmed the midfielder would be missing for several weeks. A clever misdirection or going all in with a desperation hand? You decide.

Xisco Munoz named an unchanged line-up from the side that turned over Norwich City last weekend, meaning ex-Mags Danny Rose and Moussa Sissoko started, with Rob Elliot on the bench.

The cries of “we want Brucey out” began from around 2.45pm. They re-appeared frequently, including while ahead. They came loudest when it looked like Josh King had grabbed a late winner. He followed up Moussa Sissoko’s shot, Karl Darlow tipping into his path. Vicarage Road roared, Bruce’s heart sank and the flag went up. Var was consulted; no goal.  But there was also a strong backing for the lads, supporters torn apart by a desperation for change at the top, and a desire to get behind those pulling on the shirt.

The hosts set an early tempo, Darlow making a smart double stop to deny Emmanual Dennis within 90 seconds. And with a flat-back four employed, Matt Ritchie was expected to struggle against Sarr.

But after an early scare, Ritchie recovered, thanks to a little help from Joelinton and a touch of luck, Jarred Gillet somehow giving a free-kick against the attacker when tugged over in front of the away fans.

Gillet, an Australian, became the first overseas referee in Premier League history. To the outsider this game might have appeared a gentle induction. But this was a tempestuous, high-octane affair, both teams well aware that come the final reckoning points picked up in games like this might count double. There was nothing particularly controversial, although it took just 20 minutes for Gillet to be on the end of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’. That came after Darlow rushed out to beat Tom Cleverley to the ball.

The foul went against the Watford man despite him being clattered by the goalkeeper, and he would depart at half-time with concussion Other than that, there was nothing particularly vicious, although radgie Ritchie’s rugby tackle on the half-way line to prevent a Sarr breakaway was arguably orange.

Newcastle grew into it, the energy of Longstaff, Willock and Isaac Hayden – who appeared to be sitting in front of the defence in a 4-1-4-1 off the ball – too much for the hosts.  A succession of corners saw Longstaff twice goes close from the edge of the box, while Federico Fernandez’s looping header was tipped over by Ben Foster.

When it came mid-way through the half, the lead was deserved. Saint-Maximin fed Longstaff whose 20-yard strike swerved just enough. Foster should have done better, the ball not quite destined for the top-corner. Longstaff was giving the type of lung-busting performance that saw Rafa promote him to the 1stteam, and tie him to a long-contract to ward off potential suitors. That contract expires in June.

Willock was also proving a handful. Bruce explained afterwards that the medical team had thought the midfielder had broken a metatarsal only for the scans to show no damage.  He certainly played without restriction, bursting forward, outmuscling Kucka before being scythed down by William Troost-Ekong millimetresoutside the penalty box. Clark nodded the resulting whipped Ritchie free-kick narrowly over. Within a minute Willock was at it again, this time evading the same two defenders and firing into the side netting.

As good as Longstaff was, he was not perfect. Saint-Maximin intercepted Craig Cathcart’s wayward back-pass and jinked past Foster just before the break. He squared it for Longstaff who couldn’t adjust his body in time and blazed over. Would it prove costly?

For a time, it seemed not. Foster continued to be worked after the break, palming away from Almiron before getting up to deny Joelinton with his feet. The away end roared. They sensed blood. Minutes later Willock burst into the box only for Foster to tip wide. Redemption for the goalkeeper.

Then came the set-piece equaliser. A sucker punch, and the tenth goal conceded in the second period thus far this season. After King’s effort was ruled out, came Murphy’s mess. And it was a mess.

Newcastle United are now the first club to fail to pick up a win in their opening half-dozen Premier League games six times. The first was back in 1999/00, when Sir Bobby himself swooped in to save pride. Oh, what for that now.

Watford have quietly become something of a nuisance. They have earned more points against Newcastle (20 now) than any against other Premier League club, while the Toon have never claimed victory at Vicarage Road (11 attempts).    

SAM DALLING

FT Reactions 

Another game without a win. In truth, Newcastle should have won this game after dominating for an hour. Willock had a gilt-edged chance saved around the hour mark and Watford equalised against the run of play soon after.

The question is: if you can’t beat Watford, a promoted team, after dominating for an hour, who will you beat? We have had a gentle start fixture-wise, and are still winless. That’s damning of this manager and his tactics. The home side made three subs by the time we made our first in the 79th minute. Bruce has no influence on games and calls for his resignation were consistent from the away end for the whole game.

The fans are with the players; we’re not with the manager. Time to go.

Craig Shaw 

The improvement seen after reverting to 4 at the back against Leeds continued today.

After a shaky first few minutes, Newcastle dominated for long periods. It looked to be only a matter of time before the 2nd goal, but we failed to convert a string of decent chances.

Watford scored against the run of play, and were ultimately denied a late Josh King winner that was offside.

Verdict: Easily our best 90 mins of the season so far. Room for further improvement but undoubtedly a promising performance.

Dan Jenkins

Pretty speechless. How we’ve not won that game is beyond me. That’s bad decisions, last minute goals and now a dominant performance which we haven’t won in 6 games. I’ve seen relegation before and that stinks of it. Maxi and Murphy chances missed are beyond criminal, but the lack of direction in our play both offensively and defensively is horrific. I feel like I’m watching a good under 11 game. It’s end to end but, that’s not great lads. Can’t see how we get out of this under him. Hey Ho. Wolves next week.

Jack McLane 

Looked like a change of system today. Back 4 with Hayden playing in front. Willock playing despite apparent toe injury.

First half of missed chances really. ASM maybe guilty of a couple when in good positions. Does the hard bit!

Great goal by Longstaff to give us the half time lead, after 2 earlier sighters. Second half went the same way, missed chances at both ends. VAR saving Brucies bacon and Murphy missing a one on one at the death.

Almiron had a superb 20 minute spell second half. Managers response, take him off! Enough said. Bruce Out.

Steve Wallwork