Miles Starforth’s match analysis: Newcastle United 2 Bristol City 2

Newcastle Uniteds DeAndre Yedlin and Jonjo Shelvey celebrate after Bristol City score an own goal late on make the score 2-2.
Newcastle Uniteds DeAndre Yedlin and Jonjo Shelvey celebrate after Bristol City score an own goal late on make the score 2-2.
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When referee Chris Kavanagh blew his whistle for the break, Newcastle United still led the Championship.

Yet there were boos as the club’s players headed for the tunnel.

Yes, they’d been awful and deservedly trailed Bristol City by two goals.

And yes, it had been a familiar story at St James’s Park, where Rafa Benitez’s side have often huffed and puffed against struggling teams.

But why?

Why did a minority of fans feel the need to boo their team off the pitch?

A little over 45 minutes earlier, the mood inside the stadium had been very different.

There was another Gallowgate Flags display as those same players took to the field.

It was a stirring sight, yet it didn’t stir the team. And the first-half performance clearly shook some supporters.

Maybe those fans who booed at the interval thought it was a formality given City’s dreadful form. Lee Johnson’s side had lost 10 of their previous 13 games.

But there are no formalities in the Championship, one of the most unforgiving division’s in world football.

Just look at Aston Villa, who are 17th in the division and 32 points behind United despite a spend totalling tens of millions of pounds since their own relegation from the Premier League.

Johnson, fighting to save his job at Ashton Gate, had had a simple message for Aaron Wilbraham before the game.

City’s manager told the 37-year-old, in his 20th season, that this could be his last chance to play at a stadium like St James’s Park.

It was a powerful message, and Wilbraham put in a powerful first-half performance.

For 45 minutes, the forward, up against 23-year-old United captain Jamaal Lascelles, won everything in the air.

At the opposite end of the pitch, Aleksandar Mitrovic won very little against 6ft 4ins Aden Flint, a player Newcastle, needing a battle-hardened Championship centre-half, had cast their eye over last summer before signing Grant Hanley from Blackburn Rovers.

Benitez’s team just didn’t get going, and they were no match for an enthusiastic and energetic visiting team ably led by Wilbraham, who used his all strength – and experience – to unsettle United’s defence.

It proved to be an unsettling 45 minutes.

Wilbraham lost his marker to head City into an 11th-minute lead.

United’s defenders held up their hands to appeal for offside, but Wilbraham, yards clear of Lascelles, had been onside.

And the afternoon unravelled further midway through the half when a mix-up between Paul Dummett and Karl Darlow presented David Cotterill with an open goal.

Newcastle had been sloppy and sluggish, though Matt Ritchie, a booking away from an automatic two-game ban, had worked tirelessly and pressed relentlessly.

When Kavanagh called time on the half, there were boos around the stadium.

City’s 3,000-strong travelling support, perched high in the Leazes end, roared their team off the pitch.

Newcastle, however, were better after the break. They were much better.

And Flint was fortunate to stay on the pitch after bundling over Mitrovic just outside the box.

Kavanagh, inexplicably, waved play on.

United finally played with some pace and purpose, and it was a low cross from Christian Atsu, preferred to Yoan Gouffran in Benitez’s starting XI which led to their first goal.

A shot from Jonjo Shelvey was diverted over the line by the unfortunate Korey Smith in the 59th minute.

Newcastle pushed on. They pressed and pressed, and Ciaran Clark eventually headed through a crowded box eight minutes from time to equalise.

United didn’t get a winner, but it wasn’t through a lack of trying.

And when Kavanagh blew his whistle for the final time, there was applause from all four sides of St James’s Park.

Johnson was disappointed after the game, but his overriding emotion was of “pride”.

For Benitez, however, it wasn’t a case of two points gained.

It was “two points lost” for Benitez, whose side dropped to second in the Championship on Saturday night after Brighton and Hove Albion beat Reading 3-0.

“For me, it’s two points lost,” said Newcastle’s manager.

“We didn’t start well. We made some mistakes. The reaction of the team in the second half was good.

“With the chances we had, we could have scored another goal and won the game.”

It had been a game of two halves.

And the point claimed by United could yet prove to be important in a division where the margin between success and failure can be fine.

Just ask Brighton, who missed out on promotion last season by goal difference.

Newcastle now face three tough away fixtures.

First up are Brighton at the Amex Stadium on Tuesday night.

It’s arguably the biggest game yet for United this season.

And if Newcastle can pick up where they left off against City, Chris Hughton’s side are in for a tough, tough evening.