At 6:30am at London King’s Cross, it’s fair to say all the Bees fans that were bonkers enough to make the nine hour round trip were hoping for an entertaining day on Tyneside, and three points would not have gone amiss. We certainly got the former, but despite the latter alluding Thomas Frank’s charges for a fifth game in a row, a point against Newcastle may well been seen as a vital gain come the end of the season.
I was personally popping my St. James Park cherry, and meeting up with characters pre-match from both sides in the various watering holes around town made it clear that this was going to be something of a rollercoaster. Two teams struggling for form, one with a new manager at the helm but unable to instruct from the touchline, the other ravaged by knocks and injuries. Newcastle fans bouncing for their new era to start with a bang, Bees fans hoping to spoil the welcome party. A soap opera off the pitch, it was now over to the players on the pitch to deliver the drama.
Newcastle certainly started the better, displaying a sense of purpose lacking in their season so far, under-fire players like Shelvey and Joelinton keen to impress Howe watching in the dugout, and from a 6th minute corner, Jamaal Lascelles’s unchallenged header was exactly what the Bees didn’t need. However, some pinball around the Newcastle box pretty much straight from kick-off fell to Canos who’s dinked through ball was brilliantly taken by Toney who hit it low and hard into the bottom corner whilst Darlow should have saved. 11 mins gone, drama underway. Probably not quite enough cause to light a flare though.
This game was always going to come down to individual battles, particularly in the wide areas. Alan Saint-Maximin is unpredictable and fast, Joelinton strong, and Matt Ritchie knows how to put the ball in. So whilst Rico Henry was consistent in his attacking and defending duties, Canos’ defensive efforts couldn’t match the assists he provided in the other direction. Norgaard, Pinnock, Pontus and Toney went about their diligently whilst Bryan’s love affair with the woodwork continued with an Ivan Toney followed up be ruled out for a tight but correct offside flag.
Newcastle were playing with some belief, to their credit, and their clear tactics of ‘get it to Saint-Maximin’ were paying some dividends with the tricky French winger marauding the left channel. Frank made a bold move of starting Mads Roerslev at right centre-back, and whilst the fledging Dane did his utmost to help quell the threat, him and Canos were struggling somewhat. However, a swinging pass wide to Sergi from Janelt resulted in a delicious far post cross, where an unmarked Rico Henry nodded home. 2-1 Bees. A few minutes later, Saint-Maximin danced to the edge of the area and his deflected shot fell to Joelinton, who punished some static defending with a good left-footed finish. A hell of a first half concluded.
The second half remained an open game, Saman Ghoddos was struggling all game to have a positive impact offensively and defensively and, after numerous misplaced passes and a silly yellow card, was hooked on 60 mins for Frank the Tank. An unfortunate sign the Iranian’s role in the team long-term is not going to extend beyond impact substitute appearances. We all want him to do well, but in the same way as Emiliano, a few swallows do not make a summer. Onyeka did help sure the midfield up though, and after some dogged work from Rico, had a snapshot which deflected off Lascelles to beat Darlow. All we had to do was stay switched on at the back but it was as if both teams were trying to outdo each other’s defensive frailties, as a Ryan Fraser cross found an unmarked Saint Maximin at the back stick to finish it all square.
A Shandon Baptiste cameo at the end was a further positive to ending the run of 4 defeats, but there will continue to be concerns about the number of goals we’re conceding. Frank has a tough task at hand to plug the leak without Raya, Ajer, Zanka, Mads Bech and Jeanvier to call upon. Alvaro looks nervy, but he’s been chucked in way ahead of time. Let’s just hope he ‘Janelts’ it and grows in confidence soon. It’s mad to think how quickly we’ve gone from being overloaded with players in defence to suddenly looking like we’re a couple more knocks away from fielding King Kev, Buzz Bee and myself as the back three.
The phrase we often use is to keep football out of football, by which only the football can really ruin the day. This day was not ruined by anything, but if Joelinton had kept his composure in the closing stages when through on goal it could’ve been. Both teams deserved three points, so a draw is probably a fair result. Whilst the new Saudi ownership’s ethical background throws up questions and issues that need to be addressed, I can’t help but feel happy for the passionate Geordies that feel they have their club back. Unlike Burnley and Norwich, we didn’t feel generous enough to give the Toon their first 3 -point haul of the season, but we leave a great city and a good bunch of characters a point better off. Just thank goodness it was a 3 o’clock kick-off! It’s a good foundation for next weekend, and maybe a home game against Everton is the kind of understated match we need to get a result and back to winning ways.