Analysis: Newcastle were full of running against Man City '“ but time is still running out
That was Newcastle, united.
A team in black and white hadn’t played like that at St James’s Park in a long, long time.
Rafa Benitez’s players ran themselves into the ground.
And had it not been for a refereeing mistake, they would be out of the Premier League’s relegation zone today ahead of Saturday’s game against Liverpool at Anfield.
As it was, Sergio Aguero’s goal was allowed to stand.
It’s hard to know if the point the club took from last night’s 1-1 draw against Manchester City will prove to be a good one.
Only time will tell, and Newcastle are fast running out of time.
The second-bottom club is now two points adrift of 17th-placed Norwich City, and a point behind Sunderland, with four games left to play.
But a tireless United made a point against an uncharacteristically sloppy City team.
It’s just a shame Newcastle hadn’t played like that on home turf in the previous eight months.
Admittedly, City were surprisingly poor. They were second best as United won battles all over the pitch.
It was an off night for Manuel Pellegrini’s side, who last week reached the Champions League semi-finals.
United manager Benitez made just one change – Ayoze Perez came in for the out-of-form Georginio Wijnaldum – and Aleksandar Mitrovic was again named as a substitute, despite setting up two of Newcastle’s goals against Swansea City at the weekend.
The only surprise about Wijnaldum’s omission from the starting XI was that it hadn’t happened sooner.
Wijnaldum and Mitrovic were joined on the bench by Jonjo Shelvey, who had been dropped for Saturday’s game.
The expensively-assembled bench also featured Shelvey’s fellow signing Henri Saivet, who hasn’t featured for United since February.
The only January signing that did make United’s starting XI was Andros Townsend, and the winger put in a good early cross for Papiss Cisse, whose header handed on the roof of Joe Hart’s net.
For the first 15 minutes, the game was open but City’s goal had as much to do with poor officiating as anything else.
Townsend was harshly penalised for a challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov, who swung in a free-kick for Aguero.
The linesman failed to spot that Aguero was a yard offside, and the goal – his 100th in the Premier League – was allowed to stand by referee Kevin Friend.
A purposeful United pressed on. They simply had to.
And Moussa Sissoko, again the captain with Shelvey on the bench, won the ball in his own half as the hour-mark approached. The midfielder, roared on by the crowd, ran half the length of the pitch, but his shot was weak and into the arms of Hart.
Sissoko should have done better – Cisse was in a better position – but there was nothing wrong with his next move.
The 26-year-old, previously broke down the left and played a cross-field ball to over-lapping right-back Anita, who stepped inside Kolarov before shooting across Hart.
And the ball struck the far post and rolled back over the line to lift the roof at St James’s Park, where there was a crowd of 46,424, which included a sparse City following.
Benitez sent out an unchanged side for the second half but Karl Darlow had to be alert to deny Jesus Navas.
Benitez sent on Mitrovic in the 55th minute in place of Cisse and he quickly attempted to set about City, but he got little help from Friend in his battles with the visiting defence, and especially Eliaquim Mangala.
There were nerves in the stands and on the pitch. Both teams made mistakes, but none were punished.
Pellegrini replaced Fabian Delph with Raheem Sterling in the 68th minute, but Benitez held back from making a second substitution.
United’s players ran, tackled and blocked.
They lacked a final pass at times, but they ran themselves into the ground, and Wijnaldum replaced a shattered Townsend – who was outstanding on the wing – for the last 10 minutes.
Newcastle pressed and pressed, and Rolando Aarons followed Wijnaldum on to the pitch.
It was Wijnaldum who had the best chance to win it, twisting and turning in the box only to be denied by the big frame of Hart.
It would have been a wonderful winner but United’s players still left the field to a standing ovation.
And there haven’t been many of those at St James’s Park this season.