A stirring night at SJP saw us put in our best performance of the season and earn a hugely deserved point against the Champions League semi-finalists. Benitez followed up his bold move from Saturday in dropping Shelvey and left him on the bench again, this time with Wijnaldum rightly dropped after a string of poor shows, with Perez brought in.
United started the brighter of the two sides in the early exchanges and pressed City from the off and we fashioned the first chance when Townsend worked himself some pace and put over a good cross that Cisse headed onto the roof of the net. It didn’t take long for the visitors to impose themselves though with an obvious instruction to target our fullbacks although it was under highly dubious circumstances that they took the lead just before the quarter hour mark. Townsend was adjudged to have fouled Kolarov with minimal contact. He picked himself up and whipped over a dangerous free kick that was headed home by Aguero. From where I was sat in the East Stand, he looked well offside, albeit with poor marking and when the texts came in immediately it was obvious that the linesman had dropped a massive bollock.
Stung by the indignation, the crowd’s excellent support to the team never waned though and any fears that Man City would go on to dominate were quickly put aside as the team developed a backbone entirely missing under McClaren. The otherwise flawless Lascelles nearly gifted de Bruyne a goal with an awful pass that played the Belgian in but he blazed his shot wide and we started to work our way back into the match. The excellent Sissoko robbed Kolarov on the half way line and when he knocked the ball past Kompany, he was given a clear run on goal. However, he ran out of puff and sidefooted an easy effort at Hart when a square ball to Cisse might have been the better choice.
We were level on the half hour though from an unlikely source. Sissoko played a great cross field ball and Anita, breaking forward from full back pulled the ball inside Kolarov before steering a great finish in off the far post to leave Hart with no chance and leave the ground bouncing. Roared on by the crowd, we had the visitors rattled with Tiote in particular absolutely magnificent in the middle, winning the physical challenges with their imposing midfield.
The worry was that we wouldn’t be able to maintain the pace in the second half but we matched our expensively assembled opposition without ever creating any clear cut chances. Aguero went down very easily in the box under an Mbemba challenge, leaving a few hearts in mouths but the appeals were waved away and shortly after, Darlow had to get down smartly to turn a low Navas shot round the post. Man City brought on Fernandinho and Sterling while we introduced Mitrovic for a tiring Cisse, who had grafted his nuts off up front by himself and our sub nearly made an instant impact when Townsend put over a lovely ball only for the Serb to see his header deflected behind for a corner.
Wijnaldum came on for Townsend, who had run himself into the ground and as the clock ticked down and legs started to get heavier, we started to hang on a bit but it was telling to see Benitez and his coaching staff urging Perez to get off the pitch quicker when he brought him off for Aarons. Darlow palmed a header round the post as City started to pump the ball forward but we stood firm before having a golden chance to pinch all three points. Wijnaldum twisted and turned in the box giving himself a clear shot at Hart’s near post, but the England keeper spread himself well and they managed to scramble the ball clear. Five minutes of injury time which felt like an age passed and in the end, the point was greeted like a victory.
In terms of league position, it still leaves us with an awful lot to do and realistically, we need to pick something up at Anfield on Sunday to keep our chances realistic. However, in terms of hope, confidence and pride in the team, the evening could turn out to be priceless. We grafted harder as a team than we have at any point under our last two managers and clearly Benitez is starting to have a real impact on the side and with his selections and presence, is behaving like a proper manager, which of course he is and then some. We’ve got some belief at last and of course it might be too late but it’s there and we’ve got to build on it and pray for a bit of luck along the way.
Keep the Faith
Newcastle United – Darlow 7, Anita 9, Lascelles 8, Mbemba 8, Dummett 8, TIOTE 9, Colback 8, Sissoko 9, Perez 7 (Aarons n/a), Townsend 8 (Wijnaldum 7), Cisse 7 (Mitrovic 7)
Ref – 3 – He was poor but his baldy linesman was abysmal
Our Fans – 8 – Excellent, buoyed by the effort of the side with noticeable gaps in the stands
Their Fans – 1 – In a word, pathetic. Mute, shocking turnout for such a ‘massive’ club.
GARETH HARRISON – FOLLOW ON @truefaith1892
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