Newcastle’s Salomon Rondon and Matt Ritchie deal monumental blow to Manchester City’s title hopes

Newcastle 2-1 Man City: Despite Sergio Aguero's early goal, Newcastle stayed in the game and rallied in the late stages to pull off a shock win – one celebrated on the red half of Merseyside

Martin Hardy
St James' Park
Tuesday 29 January 2019 23:10
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They were rather keen on raising a glass to Rafa Benitez in Liverpool anyway, but last night he moved his old club a huge step closer to a first ever Premier League title with a dramatic victory at St James' Park.

Benitez’s name reverberated around Tyneside at full-time, the magnitude of a most unlikely of wins not lost on a club wrestling with its own demons and a very real threat of relegation.

The significance of success, however, ran much deeper. This was Manchester City’s chance to squeeze the gap at the top of the title race to Liverpool, who play on Wednesday, to one point. City, who led after just 24 seconds, blew it.

Pep Gaurdiola shook the hand of Benitez at full-time and immediately slipped quietly up the tunnel, and away from the celebrations his countryman was in the middle of.

His side had conceded their first goals in seven games on a truly stunning evening, first to Salomon Rondon, and then, with 10 minutes remaining, to Matt Ricthie. His players looked shellshocked as they filtered towards the visitors’ dressing room. Initiative moved in the north west. Liverpool’s chance to stretch their advantage to seven points will rouse Anfield for the visit of Leicester.

Newcastle had famously given the ball to City from kick-off when the two teams met at St James’ Park last season. Then Jonjo Shelvey booted it straight to Ederson in the Manchester City goal as soon as the game had begun and everyone in black and white stayed in their own half. This time Newcastle showed more attacking ambition, going back, and then going long, with seven players in the visitors’ half. That proved fatal, the ball failed to reach Christian Atsu and City broke.

David Silva, from his own half, picked out Raheem Sterling on the edge of the home penalty area, and, with Newcastle so committed, Raheem Sterling was free to run at Florian Lejeune, one of three central defenders chosen by Benitez.

The tackle did not come and Sterling floated a cross to the far post, which, Silva, in a show of his desire, had reached. He appeared to slip, and collide with Martin Dubravka, but still had the nouse to follow the track of the ball and head it into the six yard area, from where Sergio Aguero smashed his volley into the Newcastle goal.

Sergio Aguero steers City in front at St James' Park

Twenty-four seconds of the game had gone.

A capitulation seemed likely from there, and controversy felt only the slimmest of possibility when Kevin de Bruyne bent a quick free-kick down the right and Aguero crashed a second shot past Dubravka for the second time.

Replays would show that referee Paul Tierney had instructed de Bruyne to wait until he took his position, but there was initial criticism at the decision, and for his quick thinking he was shown a yellow card that would prove highly significant.

Christian Atsu did have a shot deflected over the crossbar, but there had not been a shot on target for the home side by half-time and it was Dubravka who had saved from Aguero, with Lejeune then blocking a goal bound shot from Silva, just before half-time.

Salomon Rondon grabs Newcastle's equaliser (Reuters)

There was a fine save from Dubravka, early in the second half, to deny Leroy Sane. The script felt predictable at that point, but a challenge from de Bruyne on Matt Ritchie would prove influential. Tierney ignored calls from both Newcastle players and the home crowd fora second yellow, but Guardiola still withdrew the player, who looked bemused, in the 65th minute.

A minute later, Newcastle had equalised.

Matt Ritchie crossed from the left and the defensive header went only as far as Isaac Hayden, on the edge of the Manchester City penalty area. He looped what was a hopeful header back in the visitor’ penalty area and there was still a cluster of defenders to deal with it, but Atsu was a nuisance and Rondon used his physical presence to create the pace to volley into the ground. The ball bounced up and into the top corner of Ederson’s goal. Guardiola, in his seat in the visitors dugout did not move. His countryman Benitez walked back to his own dugout, devoid of any emotion. That felt fairly extraordinary, but it was nothing to what would follow, when, under pressure from a Newcastle press, Fernandinho lost possession to Sean Longstaff and in his haste to retrieve the ball, clipped the player, in his own penalty area.

There would be treatment for Ederson, an elastoplast carefully placed on his knee, but the wait, of around two minutes, did not distract Ritchie. The Newcastle midfielder, an emergency left wing back, smashed a left footed shot from the spot kick under the body of the City goalkeeper. He charged to the corner flag and smashed that, but it was City’s title hopes that had been dealt the biggest blow.

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