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Newcastle United came from two goals behind to draw 2-2 against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns on Tuesday.
It was a result that many Magpies would not have accepted before the game, with all three points the aim. However, considering the circumstances, the point gained turned out to be a precious one, ending United’s four match losing streak.
After attacking the Baggies for the majority of the first half to no avail, Newcastle conceded on the stroke of half time yet again; the third occasion in a row, leaving manager Rafa Benitez incensed.
Shortly after the break, West Brom doubled their lead thanks to youngster Sam Field Newcastle however responded immediately, with captain Ciaran Clark heading in from Matt Ritchie’s corner a mere three minutes later. This proved to be the turning point in what was a cold autumn evening in the Midlands.
Newcastle then improved and looked like the only side willing to grasp the win. Their hard work paid off in the 83rd minute when Ritchie’s free-kick diverted in off West Brom defender Jonny Evans, sending the sold-out Toon Army into raptures.
United continued to penetrate but could not find a winner, with the point lifting them to 12th in the Premier League table.
After experimenting with a 4-4-2 formation in previous matches, Benitez returned to his preferred 4-2-3-1, with Spaniards Ayoze Perez and Joselu leading the line. Perez’s impact was evident.
Having been left on the bench previously, the forward’s constant pressing and harrying of the Albion defence put them under pressure throughout the game while it was clear to see that United were missing such a press during their losing streak.
Although many fans question Perez’s quality on the ball, his pressing is necessary when United are not in possession, with the Spaniard regaining possession by picking the pocket of Allan Nyom and Jonny Evans numerous times in the match.
The Toon Army’s chants of ‘Mitro, Mitro’ were answered when Benitez brought on Aleksandar Mitrovic in the 73rd minute to a rousing reception.
The big Serbian made an impact straight away, being the focal point for the Magpies’ attack while getting his body in front of the Baggies defenders. He also had a goal disallowed after DeAndre Yedlin was judged offside. His performance in a cameo 20 minutes should merit the striker a start in the next game, with Joselu not having as much of an effect.
Newcastle’s other substitutions also had an influence, with young winger Rolando Aarons intimidating West Brom’s full-backs, while midfielder Jonjo Shelvey demonstrating his incredible vision with his range of passing.
A Newcastle team pre-Rafa would have capitulated after conceding the second, however this group displayed the battling qualities needed for Premier League survival with this performance.
Although mistakes were made, it was necessary that the players did not let their heads drop and continued to fight. It is not the first time this season that Newcastle have demonstrated such qualities; they also came from a goal down to rescue a point at home to Liverpool, while they also battled to earn hard-fought wins against Swansea and Crystal Palace respectively.
Benitez himself stated that this current crop ‘play for the badge’, while also assuring the fans to ‘stick with the team’ and to ‘stick together’; his mantra in the pre match press conference.
With a tough winter period to come, Newcastle will hope that this fightback will be the catalyst for the upcoming fixtures. As it stands, United are on course for the target of 20 points in the first half of the season.
‘We need to stick together’. In Rafa we trust.
Written by Dawud Arshad
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