Newcastle United. The world’s most mental football club epitomised by another absurd evening at St James Park. A reported 51, 000 descended on the city on a beyond-baltic January midweek evening, although by the number of empty seats a fair number of season ticket holders had decided against leaving the house – a fair decision based on the pre-match expectations of the evening ahead.

The run up to kick off was an interesting one as the United Against Ashley/DW Sports flyers were held aloft by thousands, concentrated in the Strawberry Corner, presumably where they had been distributed. Anti-Ashley songs rang out across the Gallowgate as the frustration of NUFC life started to boil over. A well observed minutes silence for Emilio Sana was the only time things quietened off before kick-off.

On the pitch, Rafa unsurprisingly opted for the same eleven that put Cardiff to the sword which meant the same back three of Schar, Lascelles and Lejeune were tasked with containing Man City’s embarrassment of riches in attack. Imagine the horror when Sergio Aguero popped up within 25 seconds to give the visitors the lead. A goal that looked unfair in real time as Dubravka found himself incapacitated by Leroy Sané, leaving an open goal for Aguero.

On reflection, if NUFC had a goal like that disallowed, we’d be fuming. Even if it was a foul, I’m glad it wasn’t given as this horrific start ended up being a catalyst that brought St James’ to life for the first time this season. The crowd erupted in a way that only we can – when its NUFC against the world, the place is a cauldron, and everything changes. The efforts of the players and fans alike suddenly lifted by the atmosphere of being the worlds most ridiculous crisis football club.

Manchester City did not register another shot on target in the first half as the lads battled and matched their £400m side for 45 minutes. We had this one nailed defensively but for the ridiculous first goal. All three centre halves were excellent and Lejeune and Schar showed that they can do the job of bringing the ball out with confidence even against the best.

A quick one on Lejuene and the fact that he has slotted straight back in and looks better than before after a long stint out with a serious injury. The speed at which he has recovered and come straight back in at the same level we last saw him at is remarkable and a credit to all involved with his rehabilitation. He’s class and will be a huge part of us getting through the rest of the season in good shape.

At the other end, we didn’t create an awful lot but there was a feeling of belief growing unanimously that this was a game we could get something from as we kept ourselves in it. Pep’s “artists” were almost too casual and were clearly not expecting the levels of graft put in by all 11 of our lads. (I’d be lying if I said that at half time I thought we would win the game, but there was definitely a sense that we were in this game).

The funny thing about Rafa’s sides in these games is that we all now know what to expect between the 45th and 70th minute. Against a side like Man City it was always going to be the same – more graft and digging in to keep ourselves in the game. If it’s still 0-0 or 0-1 by 70 mins, we have a chance to nick something. The crowd has clearly come to expect this as there were many slow to return to their seats and the atmosphere dropped with the temperature when the game kicked off again.

As it was, the game changed after 60 mins. United were growing in confidence and had started to set about some decent counter attacks, with Rondon and Perez putting in the kind of performance that would trouble any defence in the world. Our budget midfield of Hayden and Longstaff were winning their battle and suddenly we were becoming a threat.

Man City’s response to this was a series of cynical fouls to break up our counter attacks. The ref was no help as they were getting away with it with no card produced.  However, this had an in inadvertent side effect of enraging the SJP crowd and suddenly we had the bear pit stadium back that we’ve lack since this time last year. We wanted to beat this plastic, cheating, bunch of c$%ts.

Minutes later, Matt Ritchie got to the by-line for the first time in the game and pinged a dangerous ball across the goal. It was cleared but only as far as Hayden who was everywhere all night. He headed it straight back into the box and the ball bounced between 5 players and with Atsu doing his best to get in the way, Rondon was first to connect with it, smashing it into the ground which was enough to beat Ederson to his right. Scenes.

If anything. This goal was too early on a normal day and you’d expect Man City to punish us in the remaining 25 mins. They came at us immediately and had a few decent chances, one of which forced a decent save from Dubravka. However, we had shifted up another gear and were all over the pitch to match their ever-growing list of players worth more than our entire team.

Gabriel Jesus and Bernardo Silva were hoyed on by Guardiola to add to their threat but all 11 of our lads were up to the challenge. This was the best all round display from NUFC in Rafa’s tenure against the best possible opposition.

This was epitomised by our local lad in centre midfield who looked like he’d been dealing with world class opposition for years. He was brilliant and picked up the all-important assist on the 77th minute (for a goal that was scored in the 80th).

The energy levels of NUFC had not dwindled as the high press against an arrogant and casual Man City back line paid off. Perez and Longstaff pounced on a hospital ball across the box to Fernandinho. Longstaff got the right side of him with the ball and was brought to the ground for our first penalty at SJP in the league since Joselu’s terrible effort against Burnley exactly a year ago.

What followed was farcical and further unsporting arrogance from Man City as their Keeper received 3 minutes of treatment (rubbing his knees which were no doubt very cold) whilst Matt Ritchie waited to take the kick. If there’s one lad you don’t piss around with on a pen it’s Matt Ritchie. He was never going to miss after that and whislt it wasn’t his greatest effort it was struck hard and low which was enough to get it through Ederson, 2-1. SCENES.

10 mins plus another 5 for injury time would normally feel like an ice age in this sort of game but such was the atmosphere and belief around St James’, it passed by without incident. We knew it was over when the ball was cleared high to Rondon on the halfway line in the 93rd minute in acres of space. Clearly spent, he elected to give it the Peter Kay and launched it on the volley high into the Milburn Stand. What a bloke.

The final whistle came after a poorly executed Man City corner and we’d won the game. Rafa Benitez was all over the pitch high fiving the lad whilst clearly also giving his usual observations to the lads with a quiet word in their ears.

Newcastle sit 14th in the league, 2 points off Brighton and 6 clear of the relegation zone if you factor in superior goal difference. Nights like this make you forget about all the other shit that is going on at this football club.

A quick point on a night that was meant to be about protests for some. It just turned out not to be the night to dwell on Mike Ashley and a chance to celebrate the efforts of Rafa and the lads. Sometimes you just have to enjoy these occasions and pick up that battle another day.

We’re not out the woods at all and there’s a lot more work to do to ensure we kick on from this but you can’t go through the shit we do as fans most of the time, not to revel in this sort of result.

MOTM: Longstaff or Hayden – both tremendous

Our Fans: 9 – up for it and reacted well to what was happening.

Their Fans: 4 – 3000 on a Tuesday night is a good effort. They were quiet and expectant though, showing the same arrogance as their team. Got the result they deserved.

Simon Campbell