New Year crackers on The Tyne

Newcastle United 1 Leicester City 2

St James’ Park – 3rd January 2021

Report by Colin Murrant

With seven changes to the side that drew with Crystal Palace, this looked on paper the best team that Rodgers could put out with only Ricardo and Soyuncu of the injured players yet to return, the latter named amongst the substitutes. Newcastle made two changes from the side that had drawn against Liverpool, with Almiron and Sean Longstaff returning to the team.

It was the second year running that City had visited Newcastle for their New Year opener: oh how City fans would have missed the fourteen flights of steps getting to the away fans seats at the top tier of the Leazes Stand: the cold fresh air in the top tier can blow away any New Year hangovers.

Away End (image taken during Jan 2020 visit)

City kicked off defending the Gallowgate end, in the third minute Maddison was the first to have a shot although the ball bent away from goal and eventually passed well wide of the far post. On 12 minutes Maddison’s through ball split the Geordie’s defence and fed Vardy who rounded Darlow and finished from a tight angle; only to be denied by the linesman’s flag for offside.

In fact, the first half was quite a drab affair with City having the majority of possession but finding it difficult to break through The Magpies well organised defence and to build up attacks with the home team’s high press. City were by no means having things all their own way though and twice Schmeichel had to come out of his area to clear up long balls that threatened to put Wilson in on goal.

There were four minutes of added time as a result of several injuries, the most worrying one for City being a knee injury for Maddison although he was able to continue. Referee Jones had to stop play three times as he managed to get in the way of the ball, he probably had had more touches in the first half than Darlow in the Newcastle goal as City failed to register a shot on target.

The second half started with a chance for Vardy on the left- hand side of goal but the ball seemed to be getting away from him and he could not get enough direction on his shot to go across the keeper and the ball hit the side netting. Yedlin and Ritchie both delivered good balls into the City box but no attackers got near the ball. Newcastle were now getting more of the ball and were showing signs of also getting more men forward.

Then, as so often happens, City took advantage of the extra space in midfield. Fofana broke up an attack on the edge of City area and fed inside to Evans who passed forward to Barnes. Barnes sprinted forward as the Longstaff brothers were left treading water as they showed little intent in catching the City winger. Barnes passed to Vardy in the box, he jinked inside past two players before laying the ball back to Maddison who rifled in a shot from just inside the penalty area on 55 minutes. The City midfielder had obviously been watching the darts, as he celebrated by miming a throw of a dart, like his shot, he hit the bullseye.

Almost immediately Wilson went down in the box screaming following a tackle from Castagne, although the referee waved play on there was a nagging doubt VAR would intervene and award a penalty. Eventually the penalty was not given and replays showed Castagne played the ball and that Wilson was the one who’s foot made contact with the City full back.

City were well in control now and Maddison 25 yards out, let the ball run across him with his back to goal: the midfielder half turned and hit the ball, blind to exact position of the goal, as it sailed just wide of the post.

On 72 minutes City seemed to have put the game to bed. Tielemans won the ball and passed to Maddison who in turn fed the ball wide right to Albrighton. The midfielder ran forward before he squared the ball across the front of the box. Tielemans, still running forward, hit the ball first time from twenty yards and it curled and rocketed past Darlow just inside the keeper’s near post for a truly wonderful goal. City had scored with two cracking strikes to light up a damp and grey St James’ Park.

With ten minutes to go Bruce made a substitution bringing on Andy Carroll; recognising the aerial threat, Rodgers brought on Soyuncu to bolster the defence. Within a minute the substitution had worked for Bruce. A needless foul by Justin led to a free kick to the right of City’s penalty area. Ritchie’s free kick eventually found Carroll who slotted home through a group of players.

The next few minutes were quite intense and you sensed a Newcastle equaliser as pressure mounted. However, little materialised in chances and, as the game entered four minutes of added on time, City were re-stablishing control and a pass from Castagne put in Barnes but his shot was saved well by Darlow.

City made it five wins in a row against The Toon on Tyneside in the Premier League and sit in third place on 32 points, one point behind the joint League Leaders. They stuck diligently to their plan which eventually paid dividends as they started to win the midfield battle. The irrepressible and consistent Albrighton, who seems to have to prove himself to every City manager, was City’s man of the match, with Tielemans a close second.

With the FA Cup to come next week-end, many of the players on show will no doubt get a 13-day break before the next Premier League fixture against Southampton. Now is the time for City to push on, hopefully to be more consistent throughout the season. With a nearly full squad, the knock-out stages of the Europa League to come, some difficult away fixtures played in the first half of the season, there is cause for optimism.  Rodgers said ‘The squad has been tremendous in terms of how they have coped with European and our league efforts. They showed really good capabilities in the game.’

Newcastle United:  Darlow, Yedlin (79), Fernandez, Schar, Clark, Ritchie, Sean Longstaff, Matty Longstaff, Almiron (64), Joelinton (65), Wilson. Subs: Dubravka, Krafth, Manquillo, Dummett, Shelvey (65), Hendrick, Murphy (64), Gayle, Carroll (79)

Leicester City: Schmeichel; Justin, Fofana, Evans, Castagne; Ndidi, Tielemans; Albrighton, Maddison (79), Barnes; Vardy. Subs: Ward, Soyuncu (79), Amartey, Thomas, Mendy, Praet, Under, Perez, Iheanacho.

Referee: Robert Jones

The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation