You have to wonder where we’d be if this manager, this attitude, this fight had been there all season. Or even just from Christmas.
Newcastle started their sixth game under Rafa with renewed hope following last weekends 3-0 win over Swansea. Tonight was a chance to show this was not a one off and build on that performance and result.
After such a startlingly different all round performance against the Swans, Rafa would make only one change to the team that started that game with Wijnaldum dropping to the bench to be replaced by Perez. No one, it would seem, is guaranteed a place in this side.
STARTING XI: Darlow, Anita, Mbemba, Lascelles, Dummett, Tiote, Colback, Townsend (Wijnaldum), Sissoko, Perez (Aarons), Cisse (Mitrovic)
This test would prove to be much more of a challenge that at the weekend however and despite a good start from the home side the visitors were ahead ominously within 15 minutes. A free kick from Newcastle’s right would be glanced over the diving Darlow by Aguero for his 100th goal in the Premier League. He now has the 2nd fastest ‘ton’ in Premier League history, only behind our very own Alan Shearer.
The goal should not have stood however as replays showed Aguero was standing a couple of yards offside when the kick was taken. And although neither the Newcastle players or crowd would seem to spot the offside at the time it should have been a simple decision for the Assistant Referee with Aguero standing in that position when the ball was kicked rather than running offside.
Now would be the real test for the Newcastle players as they had been relatively comfortable against Swansea all game. Chasing a goal against City however has proved a very different proposition for most in the league this season.
To their credit though Newcastle stuck to the game plan. A solid bank of four and two holding players is how Rafa has set us up, and with the lightweight Perez punching above his weight on one side and the impressive Townsend getting through an enormous amount of work on the other the black and whites would look mostly assured for the rest of the game.
On 31 minutes Newcastle would get their own breakthrough. A pretty simple but quick passage of play would see Sissoko push the ball wide to Anita making a rare forage forward. The miniature Dutch International would cut onto his weaker left foot and curl a delicious effort past the helpless Hart and into the keepers bottom right hand corner. The angle had looked impossible, the goalscorer improbable, Newcastle didn’t care. Cue crazy celebrations on the terraces and renewed hope on and off the pitch.
Whilst City would have slightly more of the possession and shots it certainly didn’t feel that way with perhaps the more meaningful attacks coming from the home side.
At the other end City would have one significant and probably justified appeal for a penalty waved away. Given City’s first goal the award would have been devastating for Newcastle and perhaps this was a case of what goes around comes around.
With Newcastle pushing for a winner, in injury time Newcastle would have a chance to win it. Hart this time making a smart save from sub Wijnaldum who could have perhaps done better.
Whilst the extra two points would have been precious the manner of this result, the performance and the fight shown by all of those in black and white at least gives some cause for optimism. It’s just a shame Rafa had not been put in post a few weeks before he was appointed.
Whether or not Rafa and the team can take this form into this weekends game against his old love Liverpool remains to be seen. It does feel as if Newcastle will need, once more, to take an unlikely ‘something’ from this game if we are to continue to have any hope of avoiding the drop. For now at least there is hope.
A special mention too for Lascelles, Townsend and Tiote. Whilst today was very much a team effort these three in particular put in one hell of a shift to contain and excellent City side.
Howay the Toon.