Newcastle ended 2020 with an unexpected but well deserved point against the
Premier League leaders at St. James' Park on Wednesday evening.
On the night that Martin Dubravka was on the bench for the first time this
season after recovering from injury, current Magpies goalkeeper Karl Darlow was in
And when Darlow was found wanting, his defence were on hand to clear the
danger - most notably Fabian Schar, whose hooked clearance off the line in
the 81st minute brought back memories of similar interventions by Alan
Neilson and Barry Venison in the Entertainers era.
The collective efforts of those in black and white (and blue) secured their
first home PL clean sheet of the season - and made them the first team in 22
league games to prevent the reigning champions from scoring.
Chances at the other end remained at a premium, but Newcastle retained their
discipline long enough to fashion one genuine scoring opportunity in
the 79th minute; Ciaran Clark's header bringing a block out of Alisson, Callum Wilson lurking to feed on any
That chance arose after Joelinton drew a foul midway down the United
right and Ritchie stole a yard and sent in the free kick. Sadly that
was a rare set piece success by the hosts, who otherwise passed up
the opportunity to put pressure on the visitors with some
Steve Bruce claimed to have seen evidence of renewed commitment
from his side in the Boxing Day defeat at Manchester City where few others did, but
tonight that desire was more evident.
The presence of Matty Longstaff gave United more bite in central midfield,
allowing them to play slightly further up the pitch than of late.
His forward pass meanwhile that led to Wilson testing Alisson after
12 minutes was the best played by any home player all night.
team were also collectively less passive and at least tried to defend from the front.
Given that and the off night that Liverpool endured in front of
goal, the absence of a crowd and Allan Saint-Maximin might even have
been the difference between one point and three for United - roaring
them and him on against something of a makeshift Reds defence at the
As it was, there were parallels with some of our better home results
against "big teams" in recent seasons, under both Bruce and Rafa
Benitez. Staying in the game is the most obvious, but the energy and
eagerness meant that the infamous short blanket was less evident
than of late.
A similar test awaits Newcastle at home to Leicester City on Sunday, with at
least one change required due to the suspension of Isaac Hayden - who picked
up his fifth booking against the Reds. It seems likely though that further
changes will be required, given the effort levels tonight.
And by then we'll be into 2021, and the entire back five fielded
here (Yedlin, Murphy, Fernandez, Clark, Schar) will be into the
final few months of their current contracts. On that basis, the lure
of facing Liverpool on global TV may have been more persuasive than
Bruce's team talk. Shame that the same attitude didn't pervade for
the Brentford cup tie.
Tonight belonged to the man behind them though, who quite literally saved his manager's
bacon - denying Mo Salah before half time, Firminio after the break and then
both of them in succession after an 87th minute corner.
Undoubtedly United were fortunate and there may have been few opportunities
for TV watchers to smack* their lass with a Christmas tree in celebration of
a winner, but for once this was worth tuning in for.
* we'd like to apologise to anyone offended by the original draft of this
report, when we misquoted the great Harry Palmer by saying smack their lass
with a Christmas tree. It's definitely slap.