Goals goals goals. Four yesterday. Four more last Monday. That they’ve been shared is the only slight disappointment, though they’ve also harvested two points that are not without value. But we are being entertained. And that’s tough to complain about.
Newcastle always feels like one of those places where we’ll be entertained, though. We have an excellent record at St James Park of late – it was the venue for our first ever top flight away win in 2008 and we’ve added to that a Cup and another League win since. Aiming to take City to four games unbeaten in Tyneside were:
McGregor; Elmohamady, Davies (c), Dawson, Robertson; Livermore, Huddlestone, Quinn, Diamé; Jelavić, Hernández.
Not only did that represent the same XI as the one that kicked off against West Ham last week, it only meant a trio of diacritics on the pitch. Proper cosmopolitan, City.
With 2,600 visiting fans in attendance it was good fun in the stands, and it looked enjoyable enough on the (distant) pitch as well, with both sides geared up to attack. That was brave from Steve Bruce, whose emphasis upon attractive and progressive play is a genuine delight. For Alan Pardew it was probably essential, this being close to a Must Win Game. The advertised Pardew Out protest didn’t really materialise, and it was muted rather than seething atmosphere in St James Park, despite there being just a shade under fifty thousand in.
Meanwhile, the attacking intentions of both were admirable but erratically executed. The nearest either side came to scoring in the opening skirmishes was when Jelavić turned an Elmohamady cross home, but the “goal” was disallowed when the linesman ruled the ball had gone out. From 56 miles away it was impossible to comment upon; the minimal nature of City’s protests suggest we were not unfairly denied.
19’04” came and went with the customary cry of “City Till We Die”, and thankfully no-one booing City fans singing a City song at a City game, but the game was labouring somewhat by now. Colback tested McGregor when wriggling into a yard of space and being nicely fed by Sissoko, and he probably ought to have done better than blat his effort straight at the still-British keeper.
Jelavić was similarly guilty when steering a shot straight at Krul after excellent wingplay by Robertson…and that was about it. The final fifteen minutes of the half made for tough watching as fluency wholly deserted both sides – Newcastle had more possession but did little with it, while City began to sit back and look to counter attack rather than dictate the pace. It made for an unspectacular affair, disappointing given the bustling starts both teams had made. Half-time, 0-0.
Neither side made a change at the break, and just three minutes into the second half the game unexpectedly exploded. Diamé fed Elmohamady on the right, whose cross picked out Jelavić, and he volleyed home in front of the City fans.
Except that dry description doesn’t come close to doing it justice. The ball was just a little behind the Croat and awkwardly at hip height, meaning he had to swivel and contort himself with remarkable fluidity and connect sweetly to divert the ball past Krul. A glorious goal, celebrated as urgently by Jelavić as by the Tiger Nation.
Cabella nearly equalised immediately for Newcastle, with only a terrific save by McGregor retaining City’s lead, but that was the only response from the home side, who looked positively winded by their early concession. The mood in the stadium remained, strangely, one of sullen displeasure rather than outrage, and City began to control the game for the first time.
Aluko replaced the obviously knackered Hernández on 56 (don’t expect to see the Uruguayan at the Hawthorns on Wednesday), and soon after Quinn ought to have made it 2-0 when Huddlestone’s free-kick hit a home player and fell kindly to him – his shot screwed badly wide.
On 68 it was 2-0. Robertson collected possession on the left and squared inside to Diamé, negligently left in a yard of space. He steadied himself and fired a left-footed shot that clipped the inside of Krul’s near post and went in. Two-nil – game over?
We actually did think it would be. Newcastle hadn’t seriously threatened in the second half, their fans were pointedly refusing to back their own side and City looked solid. In fact, we were too busy celebrating to notice Cisse coming on for Riviere a minute later. But that confidence would prove regrettably misplaced.
On 75 it was 2-1, Cisse fastening on to Tiote’s neat pass to coolly steer the ball past the exposed McGregor. That provoked anxiety but not panic, as City’s goal was not exactly laid siege to. Meyler replaced Jelavić for the Tigers and Ameobi took the place of Tiote for Newcastle, but with time running out we began to think we’d see it through.
On 87 a deep cross was headed back across goal for Cisse to poke home an equaliser. Some neat play in the build-up, though City wasted two opportunities to clear the danger. They didn’t and we were punished.
Rosenior replaced Robertson on 88 and Newcastle threw on Perez for Gouffran on 90, yet the nearest either side came to pinching an injury time winner was when the ball sat up for Davies, of all people, on the edge of the box. Volleys from distance aren’t what City pay their captain for, and while his effort was far from awful it went a yard or two wide. And that was that.
Point gained, or two dropped? A bit of both really. We’re getting goals, but we’re also not really stopping them. Davies is a little below last season’s stellar form, Dawson is steady but yet to really click into gear for City, meaning that James Chester is currently unlucky to be out of the side. Might he be restored to the side shortly?
Nonetheless, it’s clear that we’re onto a good thing at the moment. There’s more of a cutting edge to the side than we saw last season, meaning that enterprising play is more likely to get its reward. Some tweaking is required, mainly in defence, but that’s about it. And when City do finally get it completely right, points will arrive. Let’s hope that this time next week we’re into the Fourth Round of the League Cup and can report upon having given the English Champions a good game. We’re enjoying this season, on the pitch at least – more of the same please, City.