Newcastle players raised a few eyebrows on Tuesday night with a terrific display to gain a good point against Manchester City in a game they could have won if it wasn’t for a shocking offside decision and Joe Hart’s excellent late block.
I’m not particularly fond of attributing whole results on refereeing decisions and think that far too often managers, players and fans would rather blame the officiating team for a disappointing result than actually acknowledge that their team wasn’t good enough. Linesmen, or referee’s assistants have a difficult job.
The pace of Premier League is such that making an instant decision during open play with players moving in opposite directions and constantly changing parameters for what part of the body is considered to be offside and whether players are ‘active’ or in the ‘second phase’…it is a minefield. And we are lucky that our officials usually get things right or at least a pretty desirable proportion of decisions right.
The call on Tuesday was not, however, a difficult one. There was nothing difficult about it. The ball was stationary, Aguero was stood, for an age, in an offside position. It could not have been more straightforward. And yet somehow, the linesman kept his flag down. Even Aguero was bemused by the decision as he immediately looked to the official, fully expecting to trot back upfield to face a Darlow free-kick and then almost embarrassingly began a guilty celebration.
It was a kick in the teeth for a Newcastle side that started well. It took the sting out of the crowd but the players didn’t lose heart. Cheick Tiote was back to his combative best, his best in years in fact. In one glorious moment, right at the end of the first half, Tiote leapt like a gazelle to tower a good 4 to 6 inches above YaYa Toure to beat him in the air. Pure determination.
Sissoko has been totally reinvigorated by Benitez and was again, outstanding. His pace and power so much more effective in a central position and it was his brilliant pass that picked out Vernon Anita on the right, who controlled, cut inside and curled a beautiful left footer in off the bottom of the post. It was a magnificent goal, one of real quality and Anita again showed he has the determination and the quality to be a vital component of our fight for survival.
Where many had expected Newcastle to go down without a fight, four points in the last two games have given United a platform for survival and more importantly, the players are showing a determination, belief and desire to survive. That is, in large part, down to Benitez. A trip to his beloved Anfield is next.