A game of two halves and a pretty unconvincing pre-season display just 19 days before the big kick off, as Jeff Hendrick scored late to hand us a 1-1 draw at Rotherham on Tuesday night.
It was 1-0 to the League One side through a Michael Smith header just eight minutes in, and we could’ve easily gone 2-0 down before a couple of chances fell to Sean Longstaff and Callum Wilson before the break.
After being second best to The Millers in the first 45, we kicked into gear after the restart and had chances to draw level on numerous occasions, with Fernandez going closest via a header miraculously saved by Rotherham’s Johansson.
We ended the game with no strikers on the pitch, Jeff Hendrick up top and the travelling Toon Army chanting “you’re just a **** Steve McClaren” at Steve Bruce, however it was the unconvincing Irishman who saved us from defeat in the end, with his 84th minute header being glanced in via a dangerous delivery from Jacob Murphy.
Still, that didn’t stop a few in the away end booing at the full-time whistle, with some clearly unimpressed by what they’re seeing on and off the pitch so far this summer.
STARTING 11: (5-3-2) – Woodman – Ritchie, Lascelles (c), Fernandez, Clark, Lewis – Hayden, S Longstaff, Fraser – Gayle, Wilson.
SUBS: Gillespie (45), Langley, Dummett (45), Bondswell, Schar (64), Watts (45), Krafth (64), Hendrick (72), Young (80), M Longstaff (72), J White (77), Murphy (45).
In truth, the first half was anything but convincing from a Newcastle United perspective.
We were bullied by the League One side, struggled to cope with the pressure they put us under at both ends and went 1-0 down just eight minutes in as a result.
Not for the first time in the opening 45, Mickel Miller got in down Matt Ritchie’s side, swung a tempting ball into the box and Michael Smith powered a header past Freddie Woodman after being too strong for Ciaran Clark in the air.
Wilson, Fraser and Lewis’ pace offered us brief outlets on the break, but they were in control for large parts, with their physicality and directness causing us problems.
Their pressing was causing our CB’s to punt it long and the ball was coming back at us more often than not. If it wasn’t for a brilliant last-ditch block from Clark, The Millers would’ve gone 2-0 up via Ladapo just before the 25-minute mark.
Longstaff had two decent chances to draw us level – one from a free kick he skied high and wide and the other from a lovely Ryan Fraser cross that fell his way 10 yards out, only for the midfielder to fire over once again.
Our biggest chance fell to Wilson’s feet just five minutes before the break, but his effort went inches wide of the far post after a mix-up saw the NUFC no.9 get clean through on goal.
The half-time whistle went and there were a few boos from the away end, with the travelling Toon Army watching us be second best to League One Rotherham for most of the first 45.
The players came out for the second half and Steve Bruce made four changes. Off came Freddie Woodman, Jamaal Lascelles, Ciaran Clark and Ryan Fraser for Mark Gillespie, Kell Watts, Paul Dummett and Jacob Murphy.
The changes saw Matt Ritchie move into Fraser’s midfield role and Murphy slow in at right-wing back, and the latter very nearly bagged an assist just seconds after the restart.
The former Norwich man burst down the right and fired a low cross into the front post which was met by Dwight Gayle – only for his effort to be deflected up into the air and cleared to safety.
It was then Federico Fernandez who was denied moments later. Ritchie swung a ball into the box from a free-kick won well by Dummett, the Argentine rose highest and looked destined to score until Johansson pulled off a stunning save to deny the big centre-back.
A good start to the second half and a strong response to a poor opening 45, but no goal to show for it as of yet.
That theme continued as we got to the hour mark, with Gayle and Longstaff both going close. 30 minutes to play and we were finally looking the superior side, even if the scoreline remained 1-0 Rotherham.
A few more changes then arrived on the 64th minute mark. Fabian Schar replaced Ritchie in midfield for his first appearance of pre-season, while Emil Krafth slotted in at the back in place of Federico Fernandez.
Chants of “The Premier League’s corrupt” then echoed around the New York Stadium as away fans made their point while waiting for an equaliser. We were comfortably the better side in the second half, created a few chances and gave Gillespie nothing to do at the other end, but our final ball was letting us down too often.
Callum Wilson then came off alongside Isaac Hayden, seeing Jeff Hendrick and Matty Longstaff come on in their place. I wasn’t sure what the plan was at this point and a few fans made their bemusement known with chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing” to Steve Bruce.
Soon after, this chant then echoed around the New York Stadium, giving the NUFC boss a bleak reminder of what it may mean to have Toon fans back in stadiums while he remains in charge…
Back to the game itself, 18-year-old Joe White then replaced Dwight Gayle with just under 15 minutes remaining – a move that saw us have no striker on the pitch and Jeff Hendrick on his own up top. Yes, you read that right!
Fellow U23 talent Jack Young then replaced Sean Longstaff on the 80-minute mark, with the game now disjointed and threatening to fizzle out after the number of second half changes.
That said, our long-awaited equaliser did arrive with five minutes remaining, as Jeff Hendrick glanced home a dangerous corner kick delivery from Jacob Murphy.
We created enough in the second half to warrant a draw, but it was another fairly unconvincing run out and reminder that new additions are badly needed with just 19 days to go until the 2021/22 season kicks off.
The following players are not involved in today’s game:
- Allan Saint-Maximin (illness)
- Martin Dubravka (injury)
- Elliot Anderson (injury)
- Joelinton (injury)
- Jonjo Shelvey (injury)
- Javier Manquillo (injury)
- Karl Darlow (COVID-19)
- Miguel Almiron (extended break after Copa America)
Up next, a trip to face Burton Albion at the Pirelli Stadium on Friday night.