"The game had everything--good and bad."
That is how new Newcastle United manager Steve McClearen described his side's 2-2 draw with Southampton Sunday in his postgame comments as the Magpies rallied fro a goal down in the first half before squandering a lead in the second half to come away with a much-deserved and desired point at St. James Park.
The Magpies were on the wrong end of two defeats from Southampton a season ago, but McClaren has begun to instill a new confidence and belief with a more possession and attacking style of play. This was on full display against a Southampton team that normally likes the ball, but was out-possessed by Newcastle 56/44. The Magpies also put in a plethora of cross attempts into the box, and were rewarded with a fortunate deflection on one of them for the first goal and NUFC also got its second goal on a cross and header.
That was the good.
Newcastle gave debuts to two of its three big-money summer signings. Both midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and defender Chancel Mbemba rewarded the coach with solid performances. Mbemba was in the right place at the right time to thwart Southampton attacks while Wijnaldum got off the mark with is first English Premier League goal after he raced in and struck a brilliant header off a cross from winger and Man of the Match (in my opinion) Gabriel Obertan. After scoring in front of the Gallowgate end faithful, Wijnaldum was mobbed by his teammates in celebration.
More good from Newcastle.
Wijnaldum's tally gave Newcastle a 2-1 lead in the opening minutes of the second half.
Prior to the that, No. 9 Papiss Cisse got an equalizing goal for the home side just minutes before the break when a deflected cross by Wijnaldum looped over Southampton's helpless keeper and needed only a chest in from Cisse to make it 1-1 at halftime.
Now for the bad.
Newcastle's shaky defense and continued struggles to defend crosses was on display again when the smallest guy on the pitch, Southampton substitute Shane Long, rose above Newcaste's Darryl Janmaat at the back post to power in a header past Tim Krul for the equalizer with 11 minutes to play in regulation.
It was the second headed goal by Southhampton in the match after Graziano Pellè put the visitors ahead in the 24th minute by connecting on a cross for a wide-open header in between Janmaat and Mbema.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, the big hulking forward Newcastle recently signed from Anderlecht was the third new boy to get his debut. It was nearly one to remember for all the wrong reasons. Mitrovic came within seconds of breaking the EPL record or fastest yellow card as an EPL player.
Mitrovic was introduced and 11 seconds later was quickly on an lunging tackle against Southampton's Matt Targett, which was an absolute yellow card and could've been red.
Actor and former Wimbledon enforcer Vinnie Jones remains as the record-holder for fastest yellow card, but Mitrovic's challenge definitely put the Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels star on notice.
"We were quite fortunate that he didn't get a red there and there would've been no complaints if he did," McClaren said.
After a whirlwind two months that saw McClaren take the helm of a rudderless ship that barely survived sinking last season, enduring a quick three-city trip to the United States, rumors and speculation of the team's former captain going to Crystal Palace, now helmed by his former coach and needing to get a result against a in-form Southampton side who is playing European Football, a draw is a satisfying result.
"We've learned so much. Can we get better? Most definitely," McClaren said. "Once we get up to our fitness levels as the weeks go on this will (get better). It's just great to get this game out of the way; I think for the players because of how last season has gone, and for us, we now have something to (progress) and build on."