Leeds United 0
Newcastle Utd 1 (Shelvey 75)
We’re not very good at this prediction lark are we? Last week none of the Yorkshire Evening Post Jury expected Leeds to win, this week no one expected us to lose! As I've said many times in the past, our unpredictability is entirely predictable!
Oh dear! That one is hard to take, it was a case of one step forward and two back today as everyone expected us, in the light of terrific performances against Burnley and West Ham, to march on up the table and put all thoughts of relegation behind us; we seemed to have turned a corner with players finally coming back from injury and others suddenly finding the great form of last season. The Premier League though is an unforgiving place and we are steadfastly refusing to learn some very simple lessons.
This game was there for the taking in the first half, Newcastle looked a forlorn outfit with only one game-plan; to try to ensure the ball was in play for as little time as possible by constantly going to ground and eating up the minutes. That way, I’m sure they reasoned, they might just be able to live with the pace and stamina of Leeds by getting a regular breather. Then, it was just a matter of taking advantage of any gifts we offered. Well, we didn’t really offer any in the first half, although Illan Meslier did have to fly through the air to push away a JoJo Shelvey volley; the only real sight of goal we offered in those first 45 minutes.
It was at the other end though where, as we’ve seen far too often, we just couldn’t put the ball in the net. Yes Raphinha was running riot down the right wing and yes, Jack Harrison was doing the same down the left, but if you count up the actual clear cut chances we created; they were far too rare for the amount of attacking play we were involved in. Dubravka made one decent save from Dan James and one from Harrison but that was about it. The rest of the time it was that final ball that was never quite right or when a real chance did present itself, as it did when Dan James met the rebound from Harrison’s shot… our man fluffed his lines. We’re playing James as a striker but he’s no Greaves-like finisher as we saw last week against West Ham! Surely we’d have put away a far higher proportion of our chances had we of had Patrick Bamford for a full season! In any case the statistics tell us that actually, the Toon had more goal attempts in this game than we did astonishingly!
For whatever reason, Leeds were nowhere near as dominant in the second half and I’m sure the Toon started to sense that they might get more than the one point they started with if they could just remain solid. With the pace of Saint-Maximin they are set up as a counter-attacking side anyway and, the longer the game stayed goalless, the more we would play into their hands as we sought for the all-important opening goal ourselves leaving ourselves open to the counter.
Cue the mistake, or series of mistakes. We all know how there is enough quality in even the poorest of the Premier League sides to capitalise on any error you make and so it would be today. Tyler Roberts, a 71st-minute substitute for Dan James who’d really done nothing wrong but could well have been tiring, was only 4 minutes into his game when he gave the ball away. The Toon’s 63rd-minute substitute Javier Manquillo strode away with the ball, outwitting Diego Llorente who was then left little option but to bring his man down. Having got his wall wrong in the past it looked this time like Illan Meslier had all the angles covered but maybe Shelvey’s weak free-kick deceived him or maybe the slightest of touches from another Newcastle leg on the way through did for him, either way, he made a total hash of the attempted save and once again we’d shot ourselves in the foot and gift-wrapped three points that the opposition truly didn’t deserve.
Throwing young Joffy Gelhardt on at that point seemed somehow cruel, almost guaranteeing our young hero would fail to save us with so little time in which to perform his miracles; he tried as he always does and even came close but by this time Newcastle were in a groove and they were determined they wouldn’t give up what they’d got.
So, last week very few predicted we’d win and we did, this week very few thought we’d lose, but we did. It is the infuriating Leeds United of old that is still haunting us! To me this was a great opportunity to cement our place in mid-table and, in any case, if we are to stay up, we have to be beating the teams below us – we have too many games still to come against teams that are unquestionably better than us!
I still think, at our best, and with a full complement of players, we can and will, more often than not beat most teams in this division, but we have to be more accurate upfront and we have to protect the ball better than we do sometimes; even our better players – Raphinha and Rodrigo in particular - have a tendency to lose the ball more often than I think they should. It’s small margins and this relegation battle isn’t done yet.
Leeds Utd Newcastle Utd
Possession 63% 37%
Shots 13 15
On Target 4 3
Corners 6 7
Fouls Committed 9 8