Norwich 2 Newcastle 2 – Tuesday 14 February 2017 7.45pm

Four games into the month of February, a month which given the fixtures for Newcastle United, is said to be the biggest month of the season – we are still unbeaten.

Having gone 1-0 up after only 23 seconds at Norwich, and taking into account that we should have been 2-0 up after five minutes if Mitrovic had buried a golden opportunity, you may be forgiven in thinking that Newcastle would have come away from Carrow Road disappointed with only a point.

However, I would have taken a draw before the game, and with 10 minutes to go, 2-1 down, a draw was a fantastic result in the end, especially with Brighton slipping up at home to Ipswich.

Most importantly, the gap between Newcastle and Huddersfield in third place is down to five points… too close for my liking at the moment. Two wins at home to Aston Villa and Bristol City are imperative as we run to three games against rivals, Brighton, Huddersfield and Reading.

After a terrible January, both on and off the pitch, the return of players from the African Nations Cup, as well as Dwight Gayle returning from injury, will give us a boost just when we need it.

Having worthy options off the bench are going to be key in the next few games… we saw on Tuesday night that replacing Colback with Diame in the centre of the park gave the side a fresh impetus going forward (and an actually half decent player alongside Shelvey).

The performances of four players were key for me on Tuesday night:

The first starting point is obviously a huge mistake from Karl Darlow that cost us the second goal. Darlow was also recent blamed by some fans for conceding the equaliser away to Brentford a few weeks ago.

The only people that seem to criticise him are those that don’t go to away games – this isn’t a criticism of those that don’t go – but if you did go, I am sure that you would have a different opinion because he has kept us in quite a few games this season… including that game against Brentford.

He earned his mistake on Tuesday night and should continue to be our no.1 for the rest of the season. All footballers make mistakes, and the bigger the ‘clanger’ the better in my opinion, because I guarantee you he won’t make a mistake like that again.

I have given Ayoze Perez a lot of criticism this season, to be honest I think most people have. However, he put in a great shift against Norwich. It wasn’t only the good finish for the goal, or the brilliant cross for Lascelles to score the equaliser but he put himself about, showed great strength at times and generally linked up the play going forward very well… if only he could have been slightly more composed at the end of the game, then we might have nicked a win!

If Tuesday’s Ayoze Perez can turn up in the big games, then he can be the difference in this league.

If there is one thing that I agree on with my mates regarding Newcastle at the moment, it’s that we still aren’t convinced by Jamaal Lascelles… especially as a captain. From my point of view, having been to most games, it appears that when the going gets tough, Lascelles hides away (yes I know he scored the equaliser). He knew it was his fault for the first goal, and from then on his head went down.

After having made a mistake for the first goal, he surely should have thought in his head, “right from now on, just play it safe and dead with it” but again, two minutes later he made the same mistake, which coupled with Darlow’s mistake led to another goal.

If you actually watch Lascelles during games, when we are winning or he is playing well he is throwing his arms around, geeing up the rest of the team and coming across as a leader on the pitch, but when the opposite occurs he is nowhere to be seen.

A captain needs to have the leadership, and most importantly, the arrogance to continue to lead the team and bark the orders out, even when he is playing rubbish himself. I worry that he will be found out next season… but let’s hope not. More leaders in the team are needed!

On a side note: Lee Ryder (Chronicle) only gave Ciaran Clark a 5 in his match ratings! I don’t know what game he was at… but it certainly wasn’t the one at Carrow Road. Once again, Clark was one of the best players on the pitch in Black and White.

The fourth player – Mitrovic. Another one that I have always defended, but his performance against Norwich was as bad as I have seen from him. He missed four golden chances – and most importantly for me, he spent most of the game whining and complaining every time something didn’t go his way. I hate this. It’s one of the worst traits I hate to see from a Newcastle player. My opinion of him would soon change if that trend continues.

The Game

Incredibly, Newcastle were 1-0 up after 23 seconds. It was quite surreal, and not just because Jack Colback laid on an assist! Newcastle opened up the Norwich defence with far too much ease. A few minutes later, it should have been 2-0, as Mitrovic capitalised on terrible Norwich defending again but his shot was timid, and flicked past the post via Ruddy’s outstretched leg.

At this point Newcastle could have gone for the jugular but they sat back and invited Norwich back into the game.

We all know what happened next, in the space of five minutes mistakes from Lascelles and Darlow meant that Norwich were now 2-1 up after 15 minutes – and for the rest of the half, with the exception of a great chance Mitrovic when he hit the post, Norwich were the better team and Newcastle were on the ropes.

Although I say on the ropes – with the exception of Whittaker driving a shot just wide of the post, i don’t recall Norwich having too many obvious goal scoring opportunities, nor do I even recall Karl Darlow having to make a save.

The mood at half-time was rather subdued – changes were needed at the break, but we all know how Rafa works and so none were forthcoming.

The second half started much the same, until Rafa made an early (and rare) change of bringing Colback off for Diame. This changed the game, giving Newcastle more power and pace in midfield to be able to drive forward, and giving Shelvey more space in the middle to be able to dictate the ball out wide to either Yedlin or Dummett, who both gave Newcastle good options going forward.

After having several chances, with Ritchie hitting the bar and Mitrovic getting rather confused while running through on goal, the equaliser eventually came through Lascelles – with much of the credit going to Perez for the delivery.

Another minor criticism of Lascelles – is that while the rest of the team ran back to the halfway line to get the game restarted, the captain was more interested in dancing into the corner to celebrate his goal. You want your skipper to set the example.

In the end, it was a great point, we could have stolen it at the end but a draw was probably a fair result on reflection. Rafa and the team made the trip over to the away supporters to thank them for it. More positives than negatives to take away from that one.

Rafa Benitez

When I first saw the team I was really pleased that he gave Mitrovic another chance, regardless of whether he took it or not.

A common theme in Rafa’s team is that he always wants to have options from the bench – and with Atsu, Diame and Gayle doing just that on Tuesday.

On the other hand, I still have no idea how Colback and Gouffran continue to get a constant run in the side – maybe Hayden isn’t fully fit at the moment? Maybe Gouffran provides that balance that Rafa likes?

One area where I think he did get it wrong was we did not learn the lessons from the last time we played Norwich. Having gone 1-0 up in that game, we sat back and let Norwich come at us. I have said it time and time again that when you go 1-0 up in this league, when you are Newcastle, then you have to go for that second goal straight away.

On the other hand, Norwich did learn their lessons. When they went 3-1 up at SJP, they sat  and let Shelvey dictate the game. This time they were brave, put us under pressure and kept a high line until the last 15 minutes.

It is a common theme on the road – but Rafa obviously trusts his players and we should trust him.

The Fans

The build-up suggested that this was going to be our weakest away following of the season – instead it was probably the strongest so far. The whole end was full at Carrow Road and it was a brilliant atmosphere.

You can never underestimate the power of a strong away support on cold long nights like Tuesday.

Last bit

Yes, we did have chances at Carrow Road, but it did feel like we snatched it in the end. Only twice this season have Newcastle scored an important goal in the last ten minutes of the game (both against Norwich). If we are going to be promoted then we will need a few more moments like that of Tuesday night to keep the team, and the fans driving forward.

If we can win the next two games then Brighton would be a free shot in my opinion. It is definitely going to be a tense end to the season.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Norwich 2 Newcastle 2

Newcastle: Perez 1, Lascelles 81

Norwich: Murphy 12, Jerome 17

Possession was Norwich 37% Newcastle 63%

Total shots were Norwich 8 Newcastle 20

Shots on target were Norwich 3 Newcastle 8

Corners were Norwich 2 Newcastle 6

Referee: Andy Madley

Newcastle United:

Darlow, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Ritchie (Atsu 70), Colback (Diame 54), Shelvey, Gouffran, Perez, Mitrovic (Gayle 76)

Unused Subs:

Elliot, Hanley, Gamez, Hayden

We also asked Jonathan to provide Match Ratings for each player and they were published after the game and can be seen HERE.