MILES STARFORTH ANALYSIS: Newcastle learn how to draw ... but could have won

Jamaal Lascelles scores the late equaliser
Jamaal Lascelles scores the late equaliser
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It’s taken a long time, but Newcastle United have FINALLY learnt how to draw.

But Rafa Benitez still wasn’t happy.

There was error after error and chance after chance.

This was a good point in the end, but Newcastle created enough chances to have taken all three points. Comfortably.

Anything goes in the Championship, but this game, which ended 2-2, was unlike any other Benitez’s side have been involved in this season.

There was error after error and chance after chance. The game was both entertaining and infuriating.

It was also a game of two halves for United, who were much better after the break.

And Jamaal Lascelles, involved in the incidents which led to Norwich City’s two first-half goals, claimed what could prove an important point with an 81st-minute strike of his own.

It was no less than Newcastle deserved for their second-half efforts at Carrow Road, the scene of a dramatic defeat late last season.

The game also saw the return of Dwight Gayle from injury ahead of a hugely-important home double header against Aston Villa and Bristol City.

Norwich were second in the division when the two teams met in late September.

Alex Neil’s team have only just recovered from what happened at St James’s Park that night.

Trailing 3-1, Newcastle came back to win 4-3. It was a remarkable comeback from a team which was still finding its feet in one of the most uncompromising divisions in the game..

Gayle netted the winner – and completed his first hat-trick for the club – six minutes into added time.

The defeat seemed to break relegated Norwich, who had seemingly been genuine title contenders at the start of the season.

But it galvanised United, and Benitez’s side has been strong enough to overcome a number of setbacks since then, notably the Jonjo Shelvey’s suspension and Gayle’s injury.

Gayle made a timely return from the hamstring problem he suffered last month after taking his goal tally for the season to 20 with a strike against Brentford.

The sight of Gayle limping off at Griffin Park was a troubling one given his importance to Benitez’s side.

Benitez’s decision to name Perez in his starting XI ahead of Mohamed Diame had been questioned by some fans before kick-off time.

But Perez quickly justified Benitez’s faith in him with a goal after just 23 seconds.

Jack Colback played him in, and Perez stroked the ball past John Ruddy.

But given Norwich’s form in front of goal in recent weeks, this game always looked like it would have goals at both ends of the pitch.

And Norwich were level 11 minutes later. Lascelles slipped and allowed Cameron Jerome to cross the ball for Jacob Murphy, who tapped the ball into the net.

It got worse for United in the 17th minute.

A sliced clearance from Darlow allowed Jerome a run at an empty goal. He celebrated before the ball had even crossed the line as a distraught Darlow crouched with his head in his hands outside Newcastle’s box.

From that moment on, Norwich’s fans goaded Darlow every time he touched the ball.

At the other end of the pitch, Aleksandar Mitrovic forced a saved from Ruddy with a header, but the momentum was with the home side for most of the half.

Alex Neil’s side bullied United in their own half, and Lascelles had an uncomfortable 45 minutes against Jerome.

Norwich, however, were vulnerable defensively themselves, and Mitrovic struck the post from a Yedlin cross as the half-time break neared.

It had been an extraordinary half. And not in a good way.

Benitez, however, resisted the temptation to make a change, or more, at the break, and he sent out the same 11 players.

Newcastle had the upper hand early in the half, and Matt Ritchie struck the underside of the crossbar with a shot from a Yedlin delivery.

Benitez replaced Colback with Diame in the 54th minute, and United delivered ball after ball into the home box. Ball by ball, Norwich kept them out.

And Benitez next turned to Christian Atsu, who replaced Matt Ritchie.

Gayle didn’t make it on to the pitch until the 76th minute, and he and Atsu energised United for the final few minutes.

The goal came after Norwich failed to clear a free-kick. Perez took the ball on the right and his cross was met at the far post by Lascelles, who struck a side-footed volley past Ruddy.

Benitez had talked about the need for his team to learn to draw in December. However, given the chances his team created at Carrow Road, it’s not surprising that he was frustrated after the final whistle.