Well wouldn’t you just know it!
A day that promised protests, poisonous atmospheres and most probably a spanking to a side bang in the title race delivered very little of that, but a bucket load of heart, emotion and positivity.
Before kick off we’d seen fans banned from the stadium, 40,000 DW Sports posted printed for fans to take into the ground to hold up, and even talk of pitch invasions. The mood made all the more edgy following seeming noncommittal statements from Rafa pre match about his future and his seeming ongoing disappointment at a continued lack of incoming transfer activity.
What unfolded was, in the end, so very Newcastle United.
Around an hour before kick off came the news of a potential record signing for the Magpies. The club said to have agreed a deal for Rafa’s supposed number one target, Miguel Almiron, with the Paraguayan confirmed as on route to the UK to finalise a deal. The press also confirming that two or three other deals were close.
PR spin? It looked like maybe not for once.
Any tinges of optimism were promptly dampened by kick off however. 24 seconds after kick-off to be precise. Despite Newcastle kicking off, a long ball to David Silva was headed back to the Magpies achilles heel, Aguero, for him to slam home in a crowded box.
Thoughts of weekend conversations regarding ‘resting players for the league’ would come flooding back. Surely United were going to lose this anyway so why not just have a tilt for the Cup and take this result on the chin!?
Well, not if Rafa and his players have anything to do with it!
Newcastle would, for once, have a referee to thank for playing a huge positive part in the outcome. Not that he did the Magpies any real favours. In fact he could have sent Kevin De Bruyne off for a second bookable offence part way through the second half. No, this time it was just good, fair, honest ‘call it as you see it’ stuff from the man in the middle. What a pleasant change.
United had to work for it though. A statistic of 25% possession is not a surprise, but the home side always looked dangerous. And as the game wore on the feeling grew that perhaps there was something there for the taking.
The first big decision referee Paul Tierney would have to make was to rule out a second goal for Aguero. De Bruyne’s quickly taken free kick being too quick for the referee who had already told the City playmaker to wait for the whistle. Aguero’s goal promptly disallowed. De Bruyne promptly received a yellow card.
It would take 66 minutes for United to find the equaliser having defended manfully and resolutely following those crazy opening moments.
A cross from Ritchie was cleared as far as Hayden who’s nod back into the box allowed Rondon to get his shot over the City keeper and send St James into delirium.
Better was to come. Buoyed by their goal the Newcastle’s players seemed to find just that little bit more in their legs. Chasing lost causes and cheered on by those fans in black and white.
City’s elegance and style, their insistence on always playing the ‘right way’ is perhaps their most endearing quality under Pep. That style comes with risk however, and if a team is brave enough to commit players onto their back line then sometimes, just sometimes, mistakes happen.
And Newcastle United made the most of just such an opportunity when it arose. Fernandinho the guilty man, turning back into his own box when under pressure having no awareness that Longstaff was behind him. The young Magpie nicking the ball away form the City enforcer who promptly fouled his man in the area.
No manner of antics and several minutes of delay as the City keeper seeming feigned injury to pile on the pressure was going to upset Ritchie, who calm as you like stepped up to fire his side into the lead on 80 mins.
And even five minutes of injury time on top of those remaining 10 minutes were enough for Manchester City to stage anything like any real scoring opportunities.
The three points for Rafa and his team are far more important than the potential effect on the title race. Although we’re pretty sure Rafa’s place in the hearts of the Red half of Merseyside would have grown a little stronger as a result of this one - if that’s even possible.
The result lifts the black and whites to 14th position own the Premier League, now 5 points above the drop zone. And with potential signings on the horizon, well, it’s not a bad day to be a Newcastle United fan after all, is it? Take them when you can!
STARTING XI: Dubravka, Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles, Lejeune, Ritchie, Hayden, Longstaff, Perez (Manquillo, 91), Atsu (Kenedy, 87), Rondon