Miles Starforth's match analysis: Newcastle United 1 Leeds United 1
This is how you play at St James's Park.
The result wasn’t what Newcastle United. Or what they deserved.
But a couple more performances like this should ensure the club is in the Premier League next season.
Brighton and Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town raised the stakes before last night’s match with victories at Molineux and the John Smith’s Stadium.
And Rafa Benitez’s side raised their game for the visit of Leeds United, who claimed a point from a 1-1 draw thanks to a goal from Chris Wood five minutes into added time.
It was the only thing Wood, the Championship’s leading scorer, did all game.
Brighton lead the division by four points.
Newcastle are eight points clear of third-placed Huddersfield – who have a game in hand – with four games left to play.
Manager Benitez, with a handful of fit-again players to choose from, made just two changes.
Aleksandar Mitrovic and Isaac Hayden were recalled to the starting XI in place of the injured Dwight Gayle and Mohamed Diame, who was among the substitutes.
DeAndre Yedlin, back from a thigh problem, also had to be content with a place on the bench.
There was a new Gallowgate Flag on display before kick-off.
A “Geordie Pride” banner was passed across the Gallowgate end of the stadium.
And there was pride on the pitch.
The game, the closest Newcastle have had to a derby this season, itself felt like a cup tie.
The sell-out crowd, including 3,200 from Leeds, raised the decibels at St James’s Park for the first league meeting between the two sides at the stadium in more than 13 years.
And the occasion, and the game, didn’t disappoint. It was only the result that was a disappointment.
Newcastle, however, took time to settle into the game.
Benitez’s side had been dominant in November’s meeting in Elland Road, where two goals from Gayle had given them a 2-0 victory.
That afternoon, Jonjo Shelvey had been dominant in midfield, but he found the return match tougher, and Leeds had the best early chance.
Alfonso Pedraza struck the crossbar with a 20-yard shot and Karl Darlow made a superb one-handed save to stop Kemar Roofe’s follow-up effort. Lascelles cleared the ball.
Roofe, alarmingly, was unmarked.
Newcastle, looking to play balls into Mitrovic, took time to settle into the game, but by the half-hour mark they were making some headway in the visiting half of the pitch.
Mitrovic didn’t cover much ground, but there was pace and movement from Matt Ritchie, Ayoze Perez and Yoan Gouffran around him.
Gouffran struck the post with a shot from just outside the box and Chancel Mbemba forced a save from Green with a header as the half-time break approached.
Perez also had a chance as Newcastle pressed for a breakthrough before the interval.
The only thing missing was a goal.
Ritchie tested Green with a free-kick curled around the wall early in the second half as Newcastle looked to pick up where they had left off before the interval.
Leeds made a series of fouls in and around the box, and both the visiting central defenders picked up yellow cards.
But a goal still wouldn’t come, and Leeds were a danger on the break.
There was another let-off for the visiting team when referee Christopher Kavanagh failed to award a penalty after Luke Ayling brought down Mbemba in the box.
Newcastle came back time and again.
They played with an intensity and intelligence which we haven’t often seen at St James’s Park this season.
And they finally got their reward in the 67th minute.
Gouffran took the ball on the right and swung in a ball for Mitrovic at the far post. The striker cleverly headed it to Lascelles, who nodded it into the net before Green could belatedly get to it.
Lascelles was mobbed by his team-mates.
There was a release of tension inside the stadium when Kavanagh confirmed the ball had crossed the line.
But Newcastle didn’t let up. They pressed for a second goal and Green denied Mitrovic.
At the other end of the pitch Wood didn’t get a chance to troubled Darlow.
Jack Colback replaced the outstanding Hayden, a player Newcastle badly missed during his spell on the sidelines, for the last 11 minutes.
Ritchie, caught by Charlie Taylor late in the game, was replaced by fit-again Yedlin for the last few minutes.
Diame came on in a final change, but the most significant entry on to the pitch in the final minutes was a Leeds fan who left the home end and went to greet Pontus Jansson on the pitch.
The episode led to an even longer period of added time, during which an unmarked Wood, lost by Lascelles, volleyed past Darlow.
The defending for the goal infuriated Benitez, who had seen his team dominate Leeds.
But this, bar that late lapse, was the best Newcastle have played at home all season.