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Leeds United 0 v 1 Newcastle United
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 22nd January 2022 Kick-off 15:00
Leeds go down to a frustrating defeat at the hands of the Geordies
Sunday, 23rd Jan 2022 17:12 by Tim Whelan

It was the same old story of failing to make our possession count, as an uncharacteristic error by Meslier proved to be enough for Newcastle United to record their first away win of the season.

After the bonus of last week’s surprise win at West Ham I was optimistic about this game, expecting another win which would put us in a really secure position, with a good gap between us and the dreaded bottom three. And my mood was further improved by catching the last few minutes of the Everton game on the screens below the Kop, with the blue scousers suffering another defeat that left them with three points fewer than us from the same number of games.

As ever we had a couple of enforced changes to make, due to the injuries suffered by Forshaw and Firpo last week. Dallas played at left-back, with Rodrigo restored to the starting line-up in an attacking midfield role. With Bamford still out, and apparently with another new injury, James was once again in an unfamiliar role as a striker.

Newcastle set out to irritate us right from the start, first by winning the toss and deciding to change ends, so we had to attack the Kop in the first half. I’m sure we prefer to do that in the second. Then they seemed to be intent on wasting time at every opportunity, perhaps hoping to go all through the game and hold us to a 0-0 draw.

In the first five minutes one of their number refused to walk 20 yards to pick of a ball for a throw in, and they then kicked the ball away when we wanted to take a corner. And while a lot of teams have had games called off lately because of too many injuries, Newcastle seemed to be the first to try to do so once a match had actually started, judging by the number of times their players went down after the slightest bit of contact.

This could have disrupted our rhythm, but for much of the first half Leeds dominated the possession, with Raphinha repeatedly turning their defence inside out to create numerous chances. But the trouble was that we had nobody to get onto the end of his crosses, with James lacking the striker’s instinct to get into the right position in the six yard box.

Rodrigo was also working hard and playing some good through balls, one of which led to our best chance of the half. It just eluded James, but Raprhinha collected it on the right and played it back into the six yard box. But James hadn’t quite anticipated the chance and had to stretch, so he couldn’t get any power on the shot and Dubravka had no trouble collecting it.

At the other end our old boy Chris Wood was working hard, but lacking the touch needed at this level of football, and for the most part Strujk and Llorente were able to keep him quiet. Newcastle’s best chance before the break came when a partially cleared corner fell to Shelvey, but on this occasion Meslier got well behind his fierce shot and made the save.

At half-time the Newcastle section of the crowd cheered their team off as if they’d just won the cup final, instead of having to spend most of the 45 minutes pinned back inside their own penalty area. And the second half began in a very similar vein, with Leeds having more of the play, but still looking unlikely to make the breakthrough.

Another good chance arrived when yet another excellent ball from Raphinha on the right found Harrison on the edge of the box. Harrison could perhaps have hit it first time, but instead moved past a couple of defenders into the box, looking for an opening. When he did get his shot away it was blocked and looped up towards James at the far post.

But similar to his chance in the first half, James failed to get any power on his shot, and once again it was easily gathered by Dubravka. Watching from the other end I thought the ball must have fallen too far in front of James so he had to stretch for it, but later on TV I could see that it was down to his lack of anticipation, as he waited for the ball to drop before he made a move, lacking the instinct of a striker who would have been in position to take advantage of the opportunity.

The longer the game went on the more I started to wonder if it would finish 0-0, or whether Newcastle could sneak it with one goal near the end. And they did get a good chance in the middle of the half when Wood completely missed a good cross but managed to find Longstaff some distance from goal. The midfielder caught it quite well, but sent his shot narrowly wide of the post. He’s only scored 3 times in his 61 Premier League games, so maybe he wasn’t the player they wanted it to fall to.

On 71 minutes Bielsa decided the best option to spice up our attack a bit was to replace James with Tyler Roberts, causing at least half our fanbase to reach for their phones and tell Facebook that Gelhardt should have come on first. And many have been a little too keen to make Roberts the scapegoat for what happened next. He clumsily lost possession in the Newcastle half, but from there the ball had a long way to go before it threatened our goal.

Newcastle took the opportunity to counter, and with Ayling out of position Manquillo was allowed to race clear down our right. Llorente came across, but found he didn’t have the pace to deal with Manquillo, so took one for the team as he collected a yellow card to stop the Newcastle man racing past him. That gave the Geordies a free kick from a dangerous position, but at an angle beyond the far right of the box.

I was relieved when Shelvey stepped up to take it rather than Trippier, remembering the latter’s goal in the World Cup semi-final. And although Shelvey managed to get it round the wall it was into the side of the goal Meslier was covering, and for a second I thought he was bound to save it. But somehow our keeper’s touch wasn’t strong enough and it ended up in the net, the error looking worse on Match of the Day than it did from behind the goal.

Some claimed it was offside, as one of their players in the centre might have got a touch and in any case their presence would have distracted Meslier. Certainly the Frenchman would have needed to consider how to palm the ball away so they didn’t get the rebound, rather than being able to solely concentrate on the save. But the TV replay showed the Newcastle players weren’t in an offside position anyway.

The error seemed to play on Meslier’s mind and he let another ball slip through his grasp a few minutes later, but thankfully Llorente was behind him on that occasion to hoof the ball clear. And Meslier recovered to make a fine save late in the game after Roberts again lost possession downfield and Saint-Maximin’s trickery created a chance for Willock.

With ten minutes left Bielsa finally gave us our wish and sent Gelhardt onto the field, with Klich looking a bit disgruntled to be the player sacrificed, throwing his tracksuit top to the back of the dugout. Gelhardt was as lively as ever, but the goal had lifted Newcastle and their fans, so by now Leeds were finding it very hard to play through them.

As time ran out Newcastle had a shout for a penalty as Koch and Saint-Maximin came together in the box after the ball had gone. The Frenchman was incredulous that nothing was given either by the referee or the VAR man, as were the guys in the match of the day studio. But I suspect that the reason was that Saint-Maximin had gone down very easily after the slightest contract, though we could be charitable and say that he slipped.

Five minutes of injury time were given, though given the number of Newcastle injuries that needed to be treated, it should have been at least a week. But in truth it looked like for all our pressure we wouldn’t have scored even if the game had gone on that long, so we went down to a very disappointing defeat. Has this result put us back into trouble?

We remain seven points clear of the relegation positions, but the Geordies are bound to improve their squad further in the next week, while Norwich are starting to show signs of life and Burnley will be happy with their point today. But this doesn’t just threaten us, with Everton still below us (albeit with a game in hand) and Brentford possibly on the slide.

We should be OK, but as ever, we need to start turning our dominance of games into goals and points. Phil Hay has reported that we’ve increased our offer for Red Bull Salzburg striker Brenden Aaronson to £20 million, and in the continued absence of Bamford it’s starting to look pretty crucial that we get him. We can’t afford any more results like this against teams who are close to us in the table.


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