Rafa Game: 1/10
So the Rafa train left tonight on a journey of 10, first stop Leicester. Not a pleasant place (in a footballing sense) to have to visit this season.
STARTING XI: Elliot, Janmaat, Taylor, Lascelles, Colback, Shelvey (Doumbia), Anita (Townsend), Sissoko, Wijnaldum, Perez (de Jong), Mitrovic
Newcastle started, as anticipated, with two holding midfield players in Anita and Shelvey with Rafa keen to keep his team ‘compact’ as Jamie Carragher confirmed he continually used to tell his Liverpool players. It made for a decent start from Newcastle with early chances for Sissoko who almost made the most of a poor back pass in the first minute and then half chances for Perez and Mitrovic who started the game up front on his own.
After ten minutes or so the game would settle into a regular pattern with Leicester having much of the ball and Newcastle sitting deep and squeezing the space that Vardy loves to run into.
On fifteen minutes the home side had their first real moment of threat with a half shout for a penalty which the referee rightly saw as no more that a coming together between Vardy and Janmaat.
A wonderful cross from Perez saw Sissoko head wide with a tough chance just before 20 minutes as Newcastle seemed happy to sit and hit a Leicester team, who’d only lost once at home all season, on the break.
On 24 mins the breakthrough for Leicester. Newcastle half cleared a freekick to the edge of the box, and as the ball came back in it eventually arrived above the head of Okazaki who’s acrobatic scissor kick was smashed past Elliot.
Que ‘you’re going down with the Villa’ and ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning' aimed at the Newcastle fans and Rafa.
The big question now was would the NUFC players fold as they have done so many times this season?!
Leicester, now retreating into their own half and asking Newcastle ‘what have you got’ whilst always looking to hit us on the break drifted their way through half time and by midway through the second half the Mags had taken the invitation.
The introduction of Townsend for Anita, with Wijnaldum dropping into a more holding role only encouraged us to go forward. First Sissoko breaking clear and really should have either hit the target or found a man in the middle, only to fail to do either. Then a neat turn and strike from Perez saw his effort narrowly ping wide and into the side netting.
As the second half moved on the game became more open and a second goal looked inevitable one way or the other.
Another fantastic cross the time from Townsend on his weaker right foot fell right into the path of Sissoko who once connected beautifully only to see his effort smash into the side and arm of Morgan. Rightly no penalty.
Then a flowing move saw Mitrovic and de Jong combine (on for Perez) but this time the strike was tame and trickled through to the Leicester keeper.
One final throw of the dice saw Doumbia on for Shelvey but with time running out Newcastle couldn’t find the goal that would lead to a point that was perhaps deserved.
The performance was certainly more solid, even given only three days of training under Rafa. And whilst a point would have been a huge confidence boost the way we played will give the team and the manager some hope going into the huge derby week ahead.
And then there were nine!