A bad night for Newcastle United as some awful defending and equally poor officiating sees us come away on the wrong side of a seven-goal thriller at Elland Road. Our favourite bookies certainly didn’t have us down as favourites pre-match, but no one could have predicted the way in which Steve Bruce’s men were put to the sword this evening.
We got off to a good start, with Hendrick giving us a lead against the run of play, but a first half equaliser from Bamford was then followed by VAR’s decision not to award Wilson a blatant penalty in the second half.
Rodrigo then made it 2-1 moments later, only for Clark to equalise via a towering header. It wasn’t 2-2 for long, however, with some amateurish defending (and one stunning finish) gifting goals to Dallas, Alioski and Harrison as Leeds ran riot in the final 20 minutes.
The defeat sees Leeds leapfrog us in the table, with us sat on 17 points after 12 games and 14th in the table.
Steve Bruce made FOUR changes for this one. Out came Almiron, Ritchie, Shelvey and Krafth and in Fraser, Murphy, Hendrick and Fernandez.
I wondered if this signalled a return to a back five, but Murphy was at right-back in a four-man defence, with Fernandez alongside Clark, Lewis keeping his place at left-back, Hayden pushing up alongside Sean Longstaff, Fraser and Hendrick out wide and Joelinton playing just off Wilson up top.
We started much the better side, pushing high up the pitch, pressing well and winning a series of free kicks. We wasted bot of those – which was frustrating given how vulnerable Leeds have been from set pieces – but it was great to see us start with on the front foot, with a mishit cross from Isaac Hayden clipping the crossbar.
After a strong opening five minutes, Leeds then began to find their passing game and were the side asking all the questions, first via dangerous cross from Dallas, then a clever cut-back that was lashed over by Rordrigo. We just about withstood that onslaught, but the hosts were now enjoying 68% of the ball and creeping closer and closer to an opener as Darlow palmed away Cooper’s header from a corner.
A pretty awful 20 minutes was then followed by a much needed attack to relieve some pressure. After Clark carried the ball out of defence and moved us into the final third, Fraser tested Meslier with a decent shot that looked destined for the far corner.
The Scot was then involved moments later as Leeds failed to clear. He picked up the ball on the left-hand side, drove at his man and floated in a tempting cross. That cross found Wilson, whose clever flick was met perfectly by Hendrick at the back post, allowing him to tap in and hand us a 1-0 lead on the 26th minute mark.
Leeds fans may have been left scratching their head after 70% possession, a hatful of shots and a host of decent chances – they had been the better side – but Bielsa’s side had looked soft touch defensively from the first minute and we’d exploited that.
That said, they’d been well on top and got straight back to hounding the Newcastle United box as soon as the game restarted. First came a thunderous strike from Raphinha blocked well by Darlow, then the Brazilian headed over after peeling away from his man. An equaliser was coming and that’s exactly what they got with 35 minutes on the clock.
Not for the first time, Raphinha was given too much room, and his cross met Rodrigo. The Spaniard’s looping header beat Darlow, clipped the bar and fell kindly for Bamford – who tapped in to make it 1-1:
At this point, our midfield was getting bypassed far too easily, crosses were coming into the box at will – Murphy and Lewis couldn’t cope – and Leeds were having far too many attempts on goal, with last-ditch defending from Clark and Fernandez, a big save from Darlow or some bad finishing from Leeds the only reason we weren’t losing at the break.
We were not only sitting deeper and deeper, despite a positive first five minutes, but our inability to string more than a few passes together meant we were constantly inviting pressure.
Heading into the second half, you felt we couldn’t ship another 14 shots and get away with it.
Thankfully, we pushed up after the restart to give our battered back four some much needed relief, but were denied an absolutely blatant penalty, with Wilson clearly taken down from behind after receiving a ball across the box from Lewis.
The referee waved it away and it was left to VAR – only for them to watch the replays and wave it away! Unbelievable.
How can ‘expert officials’ watch that and believe there’s no foul? Even if he wins the ball (which he didn’t) , it’s one of the simplest ruled in refereeing that you can’t tackle from behind!
Naturally, Leeds then went down the other end and made it 2-1, with a Harrison’s cross being glanced in well by Rodrigo.
On the balance of play they were decent value for their lead, but it was a bitter pill to swallow when we should’ve had a spot kick a few minutes earlier to make it 1-2.
Thankfully, we dusted ourselves down and got straight back at them. After Krafth replaced Hendrick, Murphy moved into more of an attacking role down our right and immediately made an impact. He beat Alioski for pace, got his head up and picked out Wilson, whose effort into the turf was brilliantly tipped over by Meslier.
Then, from the resultant corner we exposed Leeds’ frailties from set pieces, with Fraser’s corner being met brilliantly by Clark. He got up highest and headed past Meslier to make it 2-2!
It felt like we were back in it and ready to push for a late winner, only for Leeds to then run riot in the final 25 minutes via some amateurish defending.
First it was Dallas who arrived unmarked at the back post to make it 3-2. Almiron didn’t track his run and Lewis attempt to cut out the delivery was weak, but it was a goal we could’ve avoided had Sean Longstaff not lost the ball in an awful area:
We then pushed for an equaliser but were caught on the counter all too easily, with Bruce’s risk-reward approach in the final five minutes backfiring.
After Longstaff lost it, this time in the opposition box, Leeds quickly created a 5 on 2 situation and were soon queuing up at the back post to make it 4-2.
Hernandez had about four players to pick out, and it was Alioski who fired past Darlow to make it four:
Although it came via some more naive defending, Leeds’ fifth was a stunner.
This time it was Harrison who got in on the act, bursting clear straight from another Newcastle attack and smashing into the top corner from range:
It just might have been different had VAR handed us that blatant penalty, but let’s not act like Leeds didn’t deserve that.
We were sloppy all night, constantly asked for trouble, had just 31% of the ball and conceded 25 shots, with it quite telling that Clark and Darlow were arguably our two best players…despite conceding five.
With a big game to come against Fulham on Saturday and a cup quarter final at Brentford next week, let’s hope that is only a blip and result of two games in five days after a Covid outbreak at the club.
Sadly, I think most would agree that a defeat like that had been coming – even if recent results suggested we’d not been giving Bruce enough credit.