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Danger at the turnstiles for Newcastle fans but no danger of giving up this lead at Leeds

4 months ago
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Leeds, what a brilliant trip.

For the benefit of anyone who hasn’t travelled away much, this is an absolute crown jewel for me. The amount of grounds that have a level of distance and convenience to their town centre the equivalent of Newcastle playing at the the Team Valley is depressing these days.

There are also, no offence intended, some sides that have been in the Premier League that belong in such benign and unwelcoming places, there is no appeal outside of the 90 minutes of football (which is often the worst part – howay it’s Newcastle), not to mention places that are so very far away it becomes an expedition that Brian Blessed would baulk at.

This one has everything though, an hour on the train / hour and a half by road and a fine city centre that’s far enough away from the ground that there’s none of the “away fans” nonsense in the bars but near enough to get to Elland Road by Shanks Pony if needs be. The locals don’t like us particularly but it’s far from the hostile environment you’d get anywhere closer to home.

Of course, this appealing option has been consistently denied us for the best part of two decades, with Leeds’ existence in the leagues below meaning the 2016-17 Championship season was the only visit with fans allowed since 2003. This led to the predictable row about loyalty points, but I wrote an entire response to that a few days ago, so let’s not get into it again. Suffice to say the away end sold out quick.

You might wonder why people were so keen out of context. I left SJP last week convinced that Watford’s avoidable equaliser was the nail in the coffin, relegation nailed on. The shenanigans of the respective clubs of potential signings then saw a barren week on the incoming front, which doubled down on this belief.

However, the cancellation of the Burnley v Watford match and the slightly better outcome of Norwich beating Watford meant that there was a glimmer of hope; an unlikely win here would suddenly put us right back in touch. This may then help persuade those reinforcements that we aren’t a lost cause and give a welcome confidence boost that sees a different team (in terms of morale and personnel) rock up for a winnable run of matches in February.

I was at the 2016 Championship match at Elland Road, which was the first time I realised away fans had been moved to the end of the John Charles stand, having been behind the goal in the Hunter stand for the duration of Leeds’ earlier spell in the Premier League. However, I don’t remember the situation for getting into the ground being as farcical or dangerous as the experience here.

Going through the gates and having tickets checked and bodies searched, made you feel like you were already in, so it was an unpleasant surprise to be herded into a queue of 3,000 people shoved into a claustrophobic space that involved turning 180 degrees past some metal barriers. Squiring forward allowed you to queue up some steps before attempting to scan your ticket in some antiquated ramshackle machines that failed to read it half of the time, resulting in a pointless conversation with an unhelpful steward while the queue behind swelled further and grew more angry as kick off time approached.

There were a couple of people around me with small kids and this must have been a terrifying situation to have them in, but I have to call out massive credit to everyone in the Newcastle crowd for the patience and respect shown, especially when people realised there were little uns involved. A surge from the back would have created a horrible situation and at a time when there are people taking ill in crowds seems to get a lot of attention, there would surely be a lot of hand wringing and solemn words from Leeds should something terrible happen, as opposed to doing something about it now when it’s obvious and avoidable. Start by fixing your Sinclair ZX 1970s ticket reader.

Unlike some, I just made it in for the kick off to the welcome sight of a Newcastle side who looked right up for it in the splendid Joy Division away kit. The position of the fans meant there was a close up view of Dummett’s marking job on the dangerous Raphina, never letting the Brazilian out of his sight and stifling Leeds best attacking outlet.

The pattern of play was a familiar one of late, as the home side’s attempts to get forward were regularly dismantled by Joelinton, bossing a midfield reinforced by the recalled Willock, who went on to have his best game since signing permanently. When Leeds did get past they offered enough pace in behind to create concern, with Dubravka having to be alert to block James’ effort at the end of a swift counter.

For our part, Newcastle had a coherence in attack that has been missing for large stages of recent seasons. The magnificent Trippier combined solid defence in snuffing out Harrison with a hefty attacking contribution and a link up on the right that has reinvigorated Ryan Fraser’s United career. Fraser had a fairly tame effort on target pushed out, and from the resultant corner Shelvey hit a vicious volley that Meslier did well to bat away.

There was the concerning sight of Joelinton, the recently installed folk hero, limping off with what looked like a thigh or groin strain, with an ice pack being deployed to an injury that hopefully won’t last beyond the forthcoming winter break. Sean Longstaff came on and joined the list of people having their best game for a while, but it was the second of three injury enforced replacements that would make the difference.

I was disappointed to see Dummett succumb to yet another injury after a steady afternoon, but bringing on Manquillo for the final half hour offered an outlet on the left similar to Trippier on the other side. Manquillo did well to rob Rodrigo twice in one move before taking Longstaff’s pass on the overlap and steaming half the length of the pitch towards the Leeds box, which he didn’t quite reach due to Llorente clumsily bundling him over.

The crowd started singing Trippier’s name as he approached the resultant free kick and there was even the odd groan when he left it to Shelvey. However, these immediately gave way to raucous celebrations as Shelvey curled the free kick around the wall and into the bottom corner, the goalie’s weak efforts to keep it out hampered by Schar and Clark’s runs towards the ball. Neither of them touched it and they were both onside anyway, so stick your VAR check.

There was a mere 15 minutes to navigate but our inability to hang onto a lead made for some jangling nerves. The approach to being ahead though was excellent and a direct contrast to the meek rearguard action against Watford last week. Saint-Maximin danced into the box on the counter and with Wood well placed could have sealed it, but Koch’s rash challenge took out his leg in a way that was clearly obvious to all apart from the ref and the VAR.

United still steamed forward and Fraser should have done better when released by ASM. Willock then nearly sealed his fine performance with a goal after more meanderings from Saint Max, but Meslier did better this time.

The angst of five minutes of injury time was ridden out, with everyone sweating it out a bit. but none more so than the lad next to me who revealed he stood to win £880 on Shelvey 1-0 if it stayed that way. He didn’t think the challenge on Saint Max was a pen…

Scenes at full time were memorable stuff as the beaming players and coaching staff came over to the fans to be serenaded by a few raucous rounds of “Who’s that team we call United” as the stunned home fans filtered out. It was terrific afterwards to be celebrating a proper Premier League win in a great city.

Hopefully we’ll be back at Elland Road next year and not as a result of Leeds imploding and coming down with us.

The result leaves us one point behind 17th placed Norwich with a game in hand and no more games to navigate before the close of the transfer window. I would definitely expect the end stages of this to be busier than the earlier parts, and looking like you’ve half a chance of staying up will help recruitment no end. Interestingly our next opponents now sit only four points ahead of us, and with The Ev seemingly in disarray and likely to make a daft managerial appointment, we can reel them right in with a win next time out.

It feels a shame in a way that momentum can’t continue due to the break, but the chance for signings and recovery for the wounded, is welcome. Plenty on show today have improved their reputations, with Schar a man of the match candidate for me after a commanding display at the back and Lascelles countering some of his recent stick with a solid performance before going off injured. Crucially, belief and confidence should start flowing as this game plan of getting at the opposition is actually coming off. Unlike the Burnley win, this game offers the subsequent fixtures to turn this into a run.

A brilliant day, a brilliant win, and one that may become legendary in the renaissance of the club. Let’s kick on.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Leeds 0 Newcastle 1 – Saturday 22 January 3pm

(Half-time stats in brackets)

Goals:

Leeds:

Newcastle:

Shelvey 75

Possession was Leeds 63% (64%) Newcastle 37% (36%)

Total shots were Leeds 13 (8) Newcastle 15 (9)

Shots on target were Leeds 4 (1) Newcastle 3 (1)

Corners were Leeds 6 (4) Newcastle 7 (3)

Crowd: 36,405 (2,690 Newcastle)

Referee: Chris Kavanagh

Newcastle United:

Dubravka, Trippier, Lascelles (Clark 69), Schar, Dummett (Manquillo 63), Shelvey, Willock, Fraser, Joelinton (Sean Longstaff 42), Saint-Maximin, Wood

Unused Subs:

Darlow, Lewis, Hendrick, Murphy, Almiron, Gayle

(Marcelo Bielsa blames himself and match officials after Newcastle United beat Leeds United – Read HERE)

(Eddie Howe reacts to essential away day win at Leeds – ‘Heroic’ players and ‘Brilliant’ fans – Read HERE)

(Leeds 0 Newcastle 1 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)

(Leeds 0 Newcastle 1 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Saturday’s massive win! Read HERE)

(Leeds 0 Newcastle 1 – The fightback now begins with brilliant gutsy NUFC victory – Read HERE)

Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf

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