|Newcastle United 1 v 2 Leeds United|
Barclays Premier League
Tuesday, 26th January 2021 Kick-off 18:00
Leeds hold on to the win and pile more pressure onto Steve Bruce
Tuesday, 26th Jan 2021 22:59 by Tim Whelan
It was hard work in the end, but Leeds withstood a spirited second half from Newcastle United to move three points closer to ensuring another season of Premier League football.
Before the Brighton game ten days ago I saw a comment on Facebook that victory in that match would just about ensure our safety with half the season to go. Although that didn’t work out I couldn’t help feeling the same about tonight’s encounter. Newcastle aren’t one of the clubs at the bottom just yet, but they are one of the few clubs in worse form than us, slipping down the table at an alarming rate.
BT said before the game that this was Steve Bruce’s 450th game in the Premier League, but will he make it to 451? There are plenty on Tyneside calling for his head after a run of only two wins in the last 14 games, and the lacklustre performances have annoyed the locals as much as the results themselves.
There were three changes to the starting line -up, all due to returning players being slotted back into our first choice line-up. Meslier was back from illness and Phillips returned after serving his one match suspension against Brighton, but it was a bit more of a surprise that Klich was the one to make way, with Dallas playing in central midfield.
Llorente returned from missing several games with his groin problem. and he lasted a full 10 minutes before collapsing with yet another injury, this time apparently some sort of thigh strain. So Struijk became an early substitute and performed very capably in his preferred central defensive role, and even managed a couple of decent balls out of defence.
In general it was a rather poor and disjointed first half, with plenty of other stoppages for injuries, but Leeds had much the better of it against a Newcastle lacking much pace and seemingly only partially interested in what was going on.
Our first opportunity came when a Dallas cross found Harrison in acres of space, and he tried a spectacular volley but sent the ball spinning wide. The ball seemed a little high for him to be trying that, and he would have had time to take a touch to control the ball before shooting. But after that temporary let-off for the Geordies, we took the lead with another fine move in the 17th minute.
Bamford burst through the middle, though his ball out to Rodrigo seemed to have sent the Spaniard a little too wide. But when Rodrigo cut back inside and picked out Raphinha on the edge of the box, the Brazillian sidestepped a defender before curling the ball into the corner of the net with his favoured left foot.
By now we were well in control, and Newcastle’s best chance of scoring seemed to be exploiting our well-known vulnerability at set-pieces. Lascelles sent a header narrowly off-target from a corner, but most of their other efforts were shots that went well wide or over. The only other impact their forward -line made was an accidental knee to the side of Meslier’s head, but after treatment our noble custodian was able to continue.
As we approached half-time Raphinha hit the post from a narrow angle when he might have crossed to Bamford in the centre, and Rodrigo sent a powerful shot narrowly wide. After five minutes injury time we went into the break thinking we should have further in front, but probably expecting to coast to an easy victory in the second half.
But it didn’t pan out like that, as a Steve Bruce team talk must have had the desired effect for once, and Newcastle woke up during the second half. That was after we nearly began the second period with a bizarre goal, after Dallas forced Darlow into a save and the ball bounced off him onto the bar, but it wouldn’t have counted anyway as it had come off his arm.
Newcastle served notice of their intentions by forcing a couple of corners and Almiron sending in a fierce shot that fortunately was straight at Meslier. Bielsa was sufficiently concerned to bolster the midfield by sending Klich on for Alioski, who had just been booked for a crafty handball after losing possession. Dallas moved over to left-back.
But that change didn’t do us much good, as Newcastle grabbed an equaliser in the 57th minute. They cut through our defence to send Almiron clean through, and though for a second I thought Meslier had saved it, the ball got past him and bounced up into the roof of the net. Bielsa responded by making his third and final substitution, with Tyler Roberts coming on for Bamford.
It seemed a bit odd to remove our centre forward when we needed to get back in front, but this hadn’t been Bamford’s best game, seemingly lacking a cutting edge and losing the ball a few times when he dropped deep. And in any case, we were to retain the lead within four minutes, from another cross to find Harrison in acres of space on the left hand side of the box.
Once again he attempted the first-time volley, and this time got it spot on, curling the ball round Darlow and just inside the far post with the outside of his left foot. And we could have sealed the win when Raphinia crossed to Roberts in a dangerous position, but Roberts failed to get a touch and Darlow was able to make the save.
Instead Newcastle upped their game still further after the lively Saint-Maximin came on, and for the rest of the game we had to dig in to earn the three points. Gayle was the next sub for the home side, in the hope might extend his impressive record of scoring against Leeds for various clubs, but it’s a surprise that Andy Carrol didn’t also join the fray to exploit our inability to defend corners.
If nothing else Carrol would have been cunningly disguised among all the other man-buns who came forward for every Newcastle set piece, which would have made identification very difficult. As it was they still made life difficult from the series of corners they won, even if it was the rather less hirsute Shelvey who went closest with a header that Meslier did well to tip over the top.
In the closing stages we were indebted to another excellent Meslier save, this time to keep out a fierce shot from Schar. At the other end Klich was close to sealing the win with a shot that was deflected wide, but that didn’t matter as we held out through four minutes of injury time to claim the three points.
And so it came to pass that we finished the evening 14 points clear of the dreaded third bottom place, albeit having played a game more than Fulham. It may be more significant that we are now seven points above the Geordies, even though they may have taken some heart from their second half performance, as it’s hard to see them getting that many more points than us during the rest of the season.
We may have a tough run of games over the next few weeks, but tonight we are looking a lot more secure in our mid-table position.
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