Why Leeds match gave Newcastle fans far more hope than 3 points ever could have done
In years to come, the record books will simply show Newcastle 1 Leeds 1, a small step on the final crawl towards promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt.
However, I think Friday night’s match has in reality, hopefully, given us far more than that.
I can understand how gutted fans were when Leeds got that 95th minute equaliser but I don’t think it justifies in any way the reaction of so many Newcastle supporters since.
It wasn’t that the team were booed off the pitch or anything really daft like that, more the fact so many Newcastle fans are prepared to instantly forget/ignore everything that had gone before that undeserved equaliser in injury time.
It wasn’t that Newcastle United were suddenly a perfect team but it was almost as welcome a revelation.
This was a game that was totally out of step with the dross we have watched for most of this season.
That isn’t meant as a criticism of Rafa Benitez necessarily, his only remit this season is to get NUFC promoted, nothing more nothing less.
If that means playing Maracana or Mackem style football, whether it means ending as comfortable champions or promoted on the final day of the season through goal difference, going up is everything.
However, the Leeds match showed that the Newcastle fans can still create a brilliant atmosphere if the right factors come together – how reassuring is that?
I must admit I had lost hope of seeing St James Park rocking like that, this season has been painful in terms of atmosphere. Waving the flags around pre-match is all very good but sadly it gives zero assistance to what happens on the terraces/pitch during the actual game.
The Leeds game proved that we can have good times again in the stands but that was helped by something else we haven’t seen for such a long time.
Newcastle United played exciting attacking football and just how good was it to see!
Fans on the edge of their seats and leaping to their feet at numerous exciting moments, being honest, this has been missing from all but a handful of occasions this season.
It is not devaluing when we have picked up three points with a functional performance against Burton, Wigan, Rotherham or whoever, we understood it wasn’t going to be just turn up and enjoy the show in the Championship. However, it has been painful to watch if you are honest, game after game of slow endless passing, the ball going backwards far too often and a real cutting edge rarely seen.
The other, any maybe most important, thing that the Leeds encounter gave us was hope for next season in terms of the team’s ability.
I had long given up on the idea that a core of this team could have a real go next season with four or five inspired signings. Every match had become a struggle and even when Newcastle came out on top in matches like Huddersfield away (defending for pretty much all of the match and getting a bit of luck and favourable decisions), it didn’t make you think that if we played like that we’d get much joy in the Premier League.
Against Leeds though this was what we had waited for in a long time, Newcastle absolutely battered them and it was wave after wave of attacks which could and should have seen Leeds swept away.
A man of the match performance from the Leeds keeper and central defence was a big part of why Newcastle only scored one but more than that was the failings of the likes of Perez, Gouffran and Mitrovic.
Yes the Serbian striker had a much better game than of late but it was in the context of the Championship and he still never looked like scoring. Along with Perez and Gouffran, this trio are not on the same level as Ritchie, Shelvey and Hayden.
I have real hope now that these three can do a very good job if promoted, with three other players in that front six, along with a first choice left-back who can get up the pitch and contribute. Dwight Gayle may be able to be one of those three additional ones needed to that team v Leeds, or at very least be part of a core 15 or 16 players Rafa can rely on.
However, a better striker and attacking midfielder/number 10 would have added three or four more goals against Leeds, with the platform that Hayden, Shelvey and Ritchie provided against Garry Monk’s team.
When I look back this season when Newcastle have shown true quality that made you think they were a class above this division, I came up with the following:
27 August 2016 – Newcastle 2 Brighton 0
13 September 2016 – QPR 0 Newcastle 6
28 September 2016 – Newcastle 4 Norwich 3
20 November 2016 – Leeds 0 Newcastle 2
10 December 2016 0 – Newcastle 4 Birmingham 0
28 February 2017 – Brighton 1 Newcastle 2
Not all of these games were perfect but they all had at least in parts, significant hints that Newcastle could be pretty good if promoted – with additional signings.
Brighton have proved themselves the best team (at the minute) in the division but Newcastle were the better team both home and away, especially impressive away from home when Brighton were gifted that early penalty/goal.
Against QPR and Birmingham, it wasn’t just the combined 10 goals without reply, it was the manner in which the team blew the opposition away.
Leeds away wasn’t that exciting but NUFC were completely in control against a club who have shown themselves over the campaign to be one of the top four or five clubs.
Norwich at home was a bit like Leeds on Friday, Newcastle battered the Canaries and should have been a few up, only for them to be sucker punched three times and end up trailing 3-1. That though was turned around with a show of attacking strength and determination that saw a dramatic 4-3 win in the end.
Looking at these uplifting games above, the striking thing is that since that Good Friday match with Leeds, the only other one since December was the away display at Brighton, only one match in over four months when for me, Newcastle really showed their quality.
Let’s hope that starting with Ipswich away today, Rafa’s tactics and team can show the same attacking intent and dominance, with a few goals as the cherry on the top.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 1 Leeds 1
Newcastle: Lascelles 67
Leeds: Wood 90+5
Possession was Leeds 44% Newcastle 56%
Total shots were Leeds 4 Newcastle 22
Shots on target were Leeds 2 Newcastle 4
Corners were Leeds 0 Newcastle 19
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
Darlow, Anita, Lascelles, Mbemba, Dummett, Ritchie (Yedlin 84), Shelvey, Hayden (Colback 79), Gouffran, Perez (Diame 90), Mitrovic
Elliot, Hanley, Murphy, Atsu
Crowd: 52,301 (Leeds 3,200)
(The instant fan/writer reaction from Friday night’s match HERE)
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