Not really what we needed this. Having awoken from the recent slumber with a fine win at West Ham, any chance of gathering momentum looked buckled as the irresistible force that is Manchester City came rumbling ominously into town, packed with their trillion pound superstars and looking to extend a 17 game winning run.
The Premier League as a collective seems unable to compete with the Mansour fantasy football team, so there was little hope given for any NUFC XI to be the brick wall that stopped this juggernaut.
The Newcastle XI in question was a surprising one to say the least. Clark, Gayle, Ritchie and Atsu dropped to the bench as Aarons came in from the cold, Shelvey was given a chance at redemption and Dummett made a welcome return from injury. With Mbemba also back in a 5 man defence it is fair to say that Rafa had a degree of damage limitation in mind and it would be a grotesque understatement to say this match was approached with half an eye on Brighton.
There will probably be two varying opinions on this game.
One is that it was tactically astute and United were in there fighting until the last minute for a point that would have been a terrific result.
The other will decry our backs to the wall approach as unacceptable in a home game, as defensive rigidity and hopeless balls up to Joselu made for a frighteningly one sided first half.
City identified Rafa’s plan swiftly, with a tenth minute substitution withdrawing Kompany from central defence and adding Jesus to an attack already brimming with Aguero, Sterling, De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva etc etc. United struggled to get out of their own final third, let alone into the opposition half, but there was hope for frustration as Aguero hit the woodwork, drew a brilliant save from Elliot, then hit the post again. De Bruyne lashed a speculative effort wide as City resorted to shooting from distance, as opposed to running at the strictly marshalled defensive line.
Of course, it didn’t last. De Bruyne was allowed the space to knock a perfectly weighted cross-field ball into the path of Sterling, Yedlin having switched off just for long enough to allow the City man to steal a yard. His near post finish was credited as an Elliot own goal in the ground but nowhere else I’ve seen since.
There was a definite feeling that we might as well go to the pub now, as surely City had it won. However, crowd and team stuck to their task and there was even a little flash of hope in the dying moments of the half. Aarons found himself in on goal and, having drawn Ederson out, tried a cheeky little chip that beat the goalie but was bundled off the line by Otamendi. Might still be in this.
The visitors’ frustration continued second half, De Bruyne firing so horribly off target when in on goal that I assumed he’d been flagged offside, before taking his turn at smacking the goal frame. I wonder if City saw our lack of invention as fair game to sit on their one goal lead, or if this would have persisted had we kept out the Sterling chance and suddenly belief would have grown.
Instead we had to believe we could smash and grab a single point.
The introduction of Gayle, Atsu and Merino gave the team a vastly improved impetus to attack and perhaps revealed Rafa’s plan to contain throughout and get at them for the final 15 minutes. It almost worked too, as Gayle went steaming in the box before being bundled over. Penalty?! No, he got booked for diving, correctly by all accounts. However, this didn’t stop the ref from getting roundly abused for the remainder of the match, not helped by his jolly little habit of dishing out free kicks to City every time someone tackled, looked at, coughed on, or thought about them.
In the dying embers Atsu did magnificently well to send a cross over that Gayle headed narrowly wide. I can only imagine the noise if we’d nicked this ill-deserved point after such a negative display, but although it wasn’t to be, there was a certain defiance that has been absent from recent surrenders.
Two utterly colossal games loom, with Brighton and Stoke both eminently beatable. This match was an unfortunate distraction from progressing up the table, here’s hoping it’s back on track on Saturday.
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 0 Manchester City 1
Man City: Sterling 31
Possession was Man City 78% Newcastle 22%
Total shots were Man City 21 Newcastle 6
Shots on target were Man City 6 Newcastle 2
Corners were Man City 8 Newcastle 3
Referee: Andre Marriner
Elliot, Yedlin, Lascelles, Mbemba (Merino 77), Dummett, Manquillo, Diame, Shelvey, Murphy, Aarons (Atsu 71), Joselu (Gayle 62)
Darlow, Clark, Perez, Ritchie
Crowd: 52,311 (Man City 3,000)
(Rafa Benitez claims he played his best team…Read it HERE)
(Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the game – Read HERE)
(Surely Rafa has to take notice of managerial genius Gary Neville…Read it HERE)
(Pep Guardiola “It’s not easy when Newcastle don’t want to play” – Read it HERE)
(Jamie Carragher calls Rafa’s tactics ’embarrassing’ – Read it HERE)