Newcastle United 0
Leeds United 0
31st December 2022, Premier League.
The final game of the calendar year saw Leeds come away from St James’ Park with a hard-earned if slightly fortunate point in a year when we managed to win just 11 games. It’s been a tough 12 months and the rest of this season looks likely to be every bit as tough. A point away from home, especially at a top side is not to be sniffed at though.
I’d hazard a guess that most Leeds fans thought it unlikely that we’d get anything at St James Park; for these 12 months during which we’ve only won 11 games, the Toon have been one of the form sides in the Premier League, winning 12 of their 18 home games alone! They came into this game on a run of six consecutive victories too and they are now unbeaten in 12. To be brutally honest, Newcastle probably should have won too… but they didn’t.
Why they didn’t was down in the main to Newcastle’s finishing being way below par – time after time they’d work half-decent positions only to blast the ball over the bar as if they’d have been more at home in the world of rugby, not football. We have to once again acknowledge the part played by Illan Meslier between our posts too, this lad gets better every time we see him and, thankfully, his flirtation with glandular fever appears not to have left any lasting issues as it often can of course. Twice in the second half, it was only down to Illan that the score remained goalless and he was head and shoulders the best performing of all of our players. Tyler Adams, Willy Gnonto, and the ever-reliable Pascal Struijk were probably the best of the rest with Rodrigo having another of those all too frequent anonymous performances and Jack Harrison offering precious little too. Having said that, we must remember we didn’t actually have much of the ball to impress with!
Perhaps the most crucial reason that Toon didn’t win though was that finally, we got through a full 90 minutes without a significant defensive calamity. We were under the cosh for much of the game and we did offer half chances to the home side but we were mainly error-free and so the self-destruction button was never fully pressed. That can only breed confidence amongst our defensive players as we go into the next few crucial games. We saw perhaps one of our better examples of game management towards the end too with Leeds taking their time over set pieces and throw-ins and not always getting up as quickly as they could after a challenge! It all helps to see a game out!
That is not to say that we were particularly solid in all respects; our passing left a lot to be desired and we were constantly only managing to string three of four passes together before weakly giving up possession and inviting Toon to run at us again from far too close to our own goal. We didn’t look particularly threatening as an attacking force, largely due to that failing to hang onto the ball long enough to finish any of our attacks.
All in all, satisfactory then if not particularly inspiring. The hope is we can continue to show the same defensive resolve and efficiency while offering more upfront and having more of the ball as we tackle a few of the teams we really need to be beating, starting with West Ham on Wednesday. The sight of Crysencio Summerville back on the pitch, a player who had become somewhat of a talisman in those games before the World Cup break, offers further hope that we can start to work on improving the creativity of the side. Let’s hope we start to announce a few signings too, I still think we will struggle to survive if we don’t!
Newcastle U Leeds U
Possession 59% 41%
Shots 16 8
On Target 5 1
Corners 9 3
Fouls 13 19