A loss is a loss is a loss when you're flirting with drop-zone positions in the table... but is there a chance that Newcastle have turned the corner here?
When you are Newcastle United, there are matches in which you just know you're outclassed before kick-off. Manchester City is one of those these days. As the Toon faithful streamed into St. James' Park for the match against the defending champions, there would have been precious few that harbored hope of even taking a single point from the match based on the gulf in class and Newcastle's poor performances over the previous 6 matches.
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said.
Into the valley of Death
six hundred eleven.
I suppose the similarities were there between this particular match and Alfred Lord Tennyson's famous poem (with Newcastle playing the role of the 600 and big money foreign investment playing the role of the Cossacks) if you were willing to take a couple of liberties here and there. With little hope, kick off came and something surprising happened. In contrast to last year's "give them possession until it hurts" tactic, the Toon actually went straight at the defending champions. Sure, sure- we've seen this before, but surely it was a one-move flash in the pan. Normal service would be resumed soon enough, right?
Not so much, really. Newcastle continued with plenty of early pressure and it took a very good save from Joe Hart from Papiss Cisse to prevent the home side from taking an improbable extremely early lead. In fact, Newcastle were playing so well early that when the inevitable break through from the Citizens came in the 10th minute, it really felt like it had come so much later. 10th minute goal conceded, it would be time to sit back and watch the deluge as we crumpled, right?
It didn't happen that way. Newcastle got back on the horse and but for some woeful passing (Cabaye! Cabaye! My kingdom for Cabaye!) would have had two separate chances to try to level in the 10 minutes that followed. Indeed, another nice save from Joe Hart kept the score at 1-0 when Mike Williamson had a chance off of a loose ball in the City box that he got a foot onto - just not well enough to get it far enough away from the England international.
Halftime was approaching and Newcastle easily could have been heading in at 1-1 with a bit of better finishing when some "same old Newcastle" couldn't help but express itself. Off of a City corner kick and header towards the far post, Davide Santon (who did not have at all his best match) somehow inexplicably flapped at the ball with his right leg, missed and saw it hit off his left and into the goal. 2-0 down at halftime and surely we were on the way to conceding 6 or 7 at least.
Not so fast, my friend. Alan Pardew chose to make 0 changes at halftime (much to my consternation), and was rewarded within 5 minutes of the second half kick off as Demba Ba put Newcastle right back in it with a looping header over Joe Hart to finish a nice ball from Captain Colo. You all know what comes next: City sprint down the pitch and nearly make it 3-1 straight away because a goal makes our already porous defense open up like a sieve. . . fortunately that did not happen and ... wait... could it be 2-2? Papiss Cisse found himself in the box with the ball and the goal to shoot at a minute later. . . but skied the shot. Midway through the second half, the possession numbers for the half were 66-34 in favor of Newcastle. We were creating chances- notably a blast from Demba Ba that hit side netting- and looked extremely fragile at the back.
Whether it was a misunderstanding between Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson or something else... it was predictable. Following a rebounded corner, Coloccini tried to play offside as Williamson went the other direction playing Yaya Toure onside for the clincher. By this point, City had essentially called the dogs off and were playing for the counter attack which was repeatedly presenting itself, so offensive pressure from the Toon is to be taken with a grain of salt... and it should be noted that the result probably should have been 5-1 but for a late comedy routine by Kun Aguero and Edin Dzeko with each taking a turn to refuse a pass to the other when it would have surely resulted in a goal had they done so...
3-1 is 3-1. A loss is a loss. Outside of the defensive frailty that just isn't going to go away, however, Newcastle weren't going to allow City to take 3 points from St. James' easily. In fact, up until Toure's goal the match had the feeling of one that we may just have earned a point from. Faced with a match against the defending champions with a squad suffering from injury, Newcastle stepped up and took the match right at Manchester City. As much as it can be, this was the most encouraging 3-1 defeat I can remember. It is now a matter of building up this performance and trying to claw our way upward in the table.