In the 85th minute on Sunday, the Gallowgate End at St James’ Park burst into song. Seconds earlier, in the technical area of the home dugout, Alan Pardew had spun on his heels with his hands clasped together in disappointment. Unlike the final home game of last season, when he was cemented to his seat, it was not personal anguish. The emotion was a shared one with the support this time.
The Spanish substitute Ayoze Perez had charged through with his first touch of the ball in English football. Adrenaline and the growing momentum of Newcastle pushed him forward and his shot appeared to be heading into the far corner of Joe Hart’s goal until Fernando struck out a leg as he slid in with a desperate challenge that deflected the ball agonisingly wide.
In that moment, Newcastle felt like a football club again. It has not been a quick fix to get there.
The memory of the ferocious anger that faced Pardew (and indirectly those in charge of the club) during a game that was actually won against Cardiff City will live long.
Nine players have arrived (two have gone back to Nottingham Forest on loan) since that watershed moment. Newcastle, who had lain dormant for the previous two transfer windows, have thus far been the busiest. The enthusiasm that has followed those signings has washed away some of the angst that built up over the sale of Yohan Cabaye and the five wins in 21 games that brought the curtain down on the last campaign.
There were spells when Newcastle were nervous (at the game’s start) and where the job of pressurising the champions of England left them breathless (mid-way through the second).
Newcastle 0 Manchester City 2 - player ratings
Newcastle 0 Manchester City 2 - player ratings
1/14 Daryl Janmaat
The debutant put some teasing crosses in from the right. 6
2/14 Paul Dummett
The young Welshman put in some strong tackles at left-back. 7
3/14 Remy Cabella
Showed flashes of brilliance on his first Newcastle start. 7
4/14 Jack Colback
His free-kick deliveries were a constant menace. 7
5/14 Emmanue Riviere
His eagerness to impress hampered his performance. 6
6/14 Moussa Sissoko
Lacked composure in front of goal. 6
7/14 Gael Clichy
A steady performance on his unfamiliar right side. 6
8/14 Martin Demichelis
Impressively dominant in the air. 7
Slotted in nicely to the Manchester City midfield on debut. 7
10/14 Samir Nasri
Showed his talent only in flashes, and was eventually subbed. 6
11/14 Yaya Toure
After a sloppy start, his influential presence grew with the game. 7
12/14 David Silva
As tricky as ever, he capped a wonderful move for the opening goal. 8
13/14 Stevan Jovetic
A decent performance on a rare City start for the Montenegrin. 7
14/14 Edin Dzeko
The Bosnian produced some exceptional hold-up play, and gave the Newcastle defence a punishing afternoon. 9
There is also the context of their recent record against Manchester City. They have now scored just once (through Demba Ba) in the last seven games between the teams.
To this walked in the new men. Four of them started. The pick was difficult. Remy Cabella was eye-catching before a ball had been kicked. There is nothing in England quite like his haircut, but he possesses real talent. Cabella showed flashes of genuine quality. The first-half pass to thread through Emmanuel Rivière was delightful and the speed of his footwork, on day one, suggests something special. City’s physical reaction to the problems he posed spoke problems.
Inside his midfield engine room was Jack Colback, who was outstanding. Pardew praised the energy and power of the English midfielder. They are two significant attributes for a young player, still just 24, in his position. He played two different roles – dropping deeper when Vurnon Anita was taken off – and the acceptance of responsibility was noteworthy. Colback is a Newcastle fan, as is the left-back Paul Dummett. There felt a heartbeat in the side against City, and that, as much as anything, was a cause for optimism for Pardew afterwards.
Cabella and Colback were the two players to whom the Newcastle manager gave special mention.
Daryl Janmaat, the Dutch World Cup right-back bought to replace Mathieu Debuchy, was steady though there was a realisation this was a hard shift. Rivière, the former Monaco forward, showed flashes of pace and quickly learned of the division’s physicality in his confrontation with Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis. He rose to that, but there will be a need for more composure in front of goal. Twice in the first half, when Newcastle could so have done with getting a foothold in the game, he shot recklessly and quickly. He does, however, retain attributes centre-forwards desire.
Perez, the fifth debutant of the afternoon, carries the exuberance of youth. He was not supposed to play much this season, but has added, as Pardew revealed, a centimetre to his body mass. He used that additional strength and pace to charge through during the home side’s best spell of the game, when only Fernando denied him a dream start.
This was not that for Newcastle either. The punishing, clinical finishing of Sergio Aguero, who had been on the field for just 10 minutes when he scored City’s second, made sure of that. David Silva’s opening goal in the first half had also featutred a defensive switch-off (two central defenders chasing Edin Dzeko) that will be punished repeatedly, regardless of inferior opposition, if it is not eradicated.
That said, Newcastle’s supporters left their own stadium happier with life than for a significant period of time. Pardew said he was buoyed by a lot of things. That felt about right.
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