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From the off there was only one team that looked like the big lads…

4 weeks ago
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Newcastle United 1 Manchester United 1  – Monday 27 December 8pm

I’m finding it quite difficult to get my head around the current situation, as the horrendous run of Christmas fixtures draw to a close.

The cancellations affecting others have seen the gap to safety reduced to a couple of points heading towards the end of the year, but the stockpile of games in hand for those around us, could be disastrous towards the end of the season.

However, you could offset this with the expectation that our team should be improved considerably in January in a way that other relegation candidates can only dream of.

Whichever way you look at it, the situation could have been improved with an unlikely result against our final big six opponent of a rotten festive fixture list.

From the off there was only one team that looked like the big lads and they weren’t in red. I brought two of my kids to this game and pointed out to them that one of the greatest players of all time was playing in the number seven shirt. If I hadn’t mentioned it was Man Utd’s number 7 they would have surely assumed I meant our bloke.

Joelinton was outstanding tonight, taking his recent renaissance to a new level as he bossed the midfield, with Man U seemingly incapable of getting past the halfway line without big Joe winning a header or robbing the ball and dancing his way past some desperate challenges.

United dominated the early exchanges and got due reward after only 7 minutes as Saint-Maximin went on a mazy run into the box, turning Maguire inside out before finishing inside the post with de Gea rooted. Raucous celebrations in the stands, although we all know that hanging onto early leads is not our forte these days.

It did feel like the essential second had been added when ASM, well up for it on the night, came steaming into the box again and found Wilson, who steered it home only to be flagged offside. There’s an added buzz in the ground when this happens these days, on the off chance that the VAR gets you out of jail, but apparently it was too obvious to even justify a referral.

Worryingly, this could be the last time we see Wilson find the net in a while, as he limped off in the closing seconds of the half, with some kind of lower leg problem appearing out of nowhere. If it’s the calf, it could be a matter of weeks, but I’ve yet to see any confirmation that it isn’t a more serious Achilles problem. Murphy came on to replace him, which took away our attacking focus.

The two goal cushion was almost achieved early in the second half as Fraser and Krafth linked up brilliantly for the latter to centre to ASM, who spurned a gilt edged tap-in by knocking it too close to de Gea when scoring was the far easier option.

Of course, this would cost us. I genuinely can’t remember Manchester having any serious threat apart from their ill-deserved equaliser, as Cavani’s effort was blocked by Lascelles, but rebounded fortunately back to the Uruguayan. With Dubravka having dived for the initial shot, Cavani had a simple finish.

There have been plenty of versions of United that would have folded at this point but we came back to finish stronger. There was yet another agonising moment as Murphy robbed possession to start a counter attack he almost finished, curling a shot past de Gea and onto the far post. It rebounded out to Almiron who sent in another fine effort only for the keeper to pull his weekly trick of pulling Man U out of the clarts with a fine diving save.

This was an excellent performance and a point that many would have taken pre-match, but the circumstances of the game itself ,made this feel very much like two points dropped. The fact that ASM was withdrawn in the closing stages with a similar injury to the stricken Wilson (although this seemed to be clearly in the calf), meant we have lost almost our whole attacking threat. Moving Joelinton from midfield would be a horrible idea, so it may be Dwight Gayle has a job to do in the short-term.

These injuries add impetus to the need to improve next month, with a striker probably now the number one priority. I have to say I hope the game at Goodison on Thursday gets pushed back, with Everton’s match at Burnley being postponed for covid and some surprising omissions from the Newcastle squad for similar reasons. This game being called off would surely see us approach the reschedule with a stronger side and increased chance of beating the Ev, as well as evening out some of the games in hand.

It may be a stretch to hope the Southampton game goes the same way, but I have little doubt that the best outcome would be for our season to be mothballed until Cambridge arrive for an FA Cup tie ,that will hopefully see a few debuts.

I think there are real positives to focus on, given that league fixtures are now becoming winnable, and all the games in hand are an irrelevance if we can turn into a winning side. The run of matches from January to March has massive potential to transform our season, but the personnel needs to be swiftly and efficiently reinforced, to give us the very best chance of keeping away from what would be a highly disruptive relegation.

Being disappointed at only drawing with Man Utd is not a bad start at revising expectations. Hopefully next time we play them we’ll be expecting to start the ball rolling on a long run of batterings.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Newcastle United 1 Manchester United 1  – Monday 27 December 8pm

(Half-time stats in brackets)

Goals:

Man Utd:

Cavani 71

Newcastle:

Saint-Maximin 7

Possession was Man Utd 70% (69%) Newcastle 30% (31%)

Total shots were Man Utd 13 (4) Newcastle 13 (4)

Shots on target were Man Utd 4 (1) Newcastle 8 (2)

Corners were Man Utd 4 (2) Newcastle 2 (1)

Referee: Craig Pawson

Crowd: 52,178 (3,000 Man Utd)

Newcastle United:

Dubravka, Krafth, Lascelles, Schar, Manquillo, Shelvey, Longstaff, Fraser (Almiron 75), Joelinton, Saint-Maximin (Gayle 83), Wilson (Murphy 45+6)

Unused Subs:

Woodman, Gillespie, Hendrick, Anderson, White

(Jeff Stelling a class act on Newcastle United – Puts Manchester United fan in his place – Read HERE)

(Why is nobody calling out Steve Bruce on Joelinton? Read HERE)

(Newcastle United 1 Manchester United 1 – Match ratings and comments on all NUFC players – Read HERE)

(Eddie Howe on injuries, possible postponement and simply…’We deserved to win’ – Read HERE)

(Ralf Rangnick not happy after lucky Manchester United second best to Newcastle United – Read HERE)

(Newcastle United 1 Manchester United 1 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Monday’s draw – Read HERE)

Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf

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