West Brom away was my first game of the season. I live in Somerset and don’t get to loads of games (last season was my record with seven) so I was excited for this relatively close (two and a half hour drive) midweek match.
One of my mates lives in Birmingham and is a Newcastle fan as well, so we both got hold of a ticket, in opposite ends of the away stand, and I arranged to stay with him.
On the back of four straight defeats it was vital we got something at West Brom. The weather was bitter and having deliberated over whether to wear a hoody or coat, I ended up with both on. There was no disguising my allegiances though. I wore last season’s home kit, under a Newcastle hoody under a Newcastle coat. I only hoped I didn’t end up stuck in a pack of disgruntled Baggies fans at the end of proceedings.
We met a group of three Geordie lads as we waiting at a tram stop and had a quick chat. They asked me if I’d take a draw but I said that I felt we needed to go for the win. At this they laughed and said I clearly hadn’t been to a home game recently. They were right to say so, I haven’t been up there since we beat Barnsley for the title but I was still ambitious about this one.
Then the team was released. How and why Joselu keeps his place is beyond me. He must score forty goals every training session to keep getting these votes of confidence from Rafa. I was very happy with the inclusion of Mbemba who I think has played really well every time he’s given the chance but then gets snubbed again. Good to see Merino back but I doubt anyone wanted his inclusion to be to the detriment of Shelvey.
There was chaos in the holding area before kick off. We sang ‘Don’t take me home’ so many times and so loudly that I was starting to worry that nobody would have voices left for the game itself. Half the fans were preferring to throw their beers around rather than drinking them so I ended up enjoying a Carling shower. I praise the day they got rid of glass bottles as I got hit by a plastic one. It was a party atmosphere and I just hoped the game itself wouldn’t dampen that.
I was impressed with the West Brom fans for the first few minutes after kick off. A section of them were very vocal and I could see some of our fans around me looking around confused. What were they playing at? It wasn’t long before we were drowning them out though.
The first half we were probably the better side but only just. Stood behind the goal that West Brom were shooting towards it wasn’t always easy to see what was happening in each Newcastle attack. Merino was a class above anyone in the midfield. He must have Bernard’s Watch tucked into his sock as he always looks like he has as much time on the ball as he wants.
Murphy was looking sharp on the left, this run of games is really building his confidence. I’ve seen comments from people asking why we spent twelve million on him. It shows the sad state of affairs our club is in when twelve million is considered a lot.
Can you imagine West Ham or Everton fans getting so uptight about a young winger finding his feet that only set them back twelve million? Not to mention the likes of Chelsea and Man City. They spend that on their fourth choices in each position. I’ve liked what I’ve seen of Murphy and am glad we’ve bought him. He needs time to bed in but I do think he’s got the potential to be a Premier League winger.
There were no real clear-cut chances for either side and, as the first half drew to a close, I prayed that we wouldn’t get hit by the injury time sucker punch we’ve experienced in the last couple of games. And then we did.
Having barely turned up in our half so far, West Brom broke away after a lofted ball from Jonny Evans found Kieran Gibbs who bettered Yedlin and got a cross in. Hal Robson-Kanu was on the end of it and powered it home.
1-0 halftime. Ah well, I was hoping we’d see all the Newcastle goals down our end anyway. I checked the stats on Sky Sports during half-time and we’d had eight shots to their five but only one on target to their two. It was another typical story of us being on top but not making the most of our chances.
And if you were wondering, Joselu was rubbish.
Second half began and unsurprisingly there were no substitutions made.
Again I’d say we were the stronger team but I wasn’t shocked when Sam Field doubled the home side’s lead. Fair play to the youngster. I’ve watched the goals again and Yedlin jumps right in front of him so he must have seen the ball at the last minute but he gambled and he tucked it away professionally.
The fans kept going despite being 2-0 down. I’m always impressed by the guy with the ridiculously loud whistle that can perform the part a drum would usually play in the ‘Geordies’ chant. How anyone can whistle that loudly I’ll never know. If I attempted it; it’s unlikely the person stood next to me would register my effort.
And then, just minutes after conceding the second we scored our first. A wonderful corner from Ritchie was met by Ciaran Clark about three yards out and we were back in the game. Cue bedlam as the fans exploded in our stand. I was bouncing up and down, embracing the bloke next to me. Only at football matches and raves can you get away with hugging a complete stranger.
From this point on we were undoubtedly in the ascendancy. Calls of ‘Mitro, Mitro’ echoed around the ground right up until the big man came on. I have to say that, although not brilliant, he offered a lot more in fifteen minutes or so than Joselu had all game. Every lofted ball he was chesting into the path of Aarons, who looked bright when he came on, or one of the central midfielders. He gives us an outlet when we can’t play out of defence.
When Shelvey came on he began pulling the strings all across the midfield. I don’t remember him misplacing a pass. When one such through ball saw Yedlin escape beyond the backline, his dragback drew a foul from McClean. The resulting free kick from Ritchie saw Rondon and Evans conspire to stick the ball in the their own net. And we were level.
It almost got even better too. Another sumptuous through ball from Shelvey found Yedlin who slid ahead of Foster to cut back for Mitrovic who placed it in the bottom corner. It was the perfect finale and I couldn’t have jumped higher if I’d been on a trampoline on the Moon. Unfortunately, nobody else around me did the same.
“Offside, mate,” the bloke whose back I’d jumped on informed me.
2-2 it finished and although I wouldn’t have taken that at the start of the game, I certainly would have at 2-0. There were definitely positives to be taken from the match.
I just really hope Mbemba keeps his place against Chelsea as well as Joselu being dropped for either Mitro or Gayle, with Shelvey coming in for Perez. That would be a team I’d have some confidence in.
Stats from BBC Sport:
West Brom 2 Newcastle 2
Newcastle: Clark 59, Evans (OG) 83
West Brom: Robson-Kanu 45+1, Field 56
Possession was West Brom 48% Newcastle 52%
Total shots were West Brom 8 Newcastle 14
Shots on target were West Brom 4 Newcastle 4
Corners were West Brom 1 Newcastle 6
Referee: Lee Probert
Darlow, Yedlin, Clark, Lejeune, Mbemba, Ritchie, Hayden (Shelvey 80), Merino, Murphy (Aarons 64), Perez, Joselu (Mitrovic 73)
Elliot, Manquillo, Gayle, Diame
Crowd: 25,534 (Newcastle 2,600)
(Read what Rafa Benitez said after the 2-2 draw HERE)
(Gary Megson refuses to give Newcastle any credit for fightback – Read HERE)
(Read the reaction from NUFC fans/writer to the West Brom match HERE)
(Alan Shearer ‘Feared the worst’ – Read HERE
You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin