We have grown frustratingly accustomed to conceding goals and dropping valuable points during the last 5 minutes of games this season but this time we scored rather than conceded one late in a game.
We were really abysmal in the first half. Playing three central defenders did not work for us and our defence was shaky at best in the first 45 minutes. Our midfield was none existent and we posed a minimal threat up front. Newcastle will have been disappointed to have only been one up at the break having dominated the game and brushed us aside all too easily. Am I alone in thinking that our target was a 0-0 draw until they scored?
The second half was a different story. We dispensed with the formation we had started with and went to a back four replacing Baker with Tshibola. We looked better at the start of the second half although it would have been very difficult to have looked any worse. We were more competitive and positive. Newcastle thought they already had the points in the bag and took their foot off the pedal. When Diame missed a great opportunity on 64 minutes to give the visitors a two-goal cushion our belief grew and we increasingly took the game to them. In the 88th minute having hit a post, having had a goal disallowed for offside and a penalty appeal turned down we got the goal that our spirited second half comeback deserved.
This was our first league meeting with Newcastle outside of the top flight since 1938. It was the first time two Champions League winning managers had met outside of the top flight. Our equalizer was also our first goal from a corner since the first game of last season. This hard earned point showed Newcastle it can prove more difficult than might be anticipated to see a game out, it took us out of the bottom six and it stopped our visitors from extending the points difference between the two clubs from 7 to 10.
It was a positive that RDM changed things at half time but equally it was a negative that his initial choices made that necessary It was nice to see another team impatiently waiting for the final whistle at the end rather than us and this encouraging battling second half performance needs to be used as a springboard to an upturn in both our results and confidence.
My player ratings from a game that produced boos at the end of the first half and applause at the end of the second in what was a real game of two halves are:
Pierluigi Gollini – 7 – He is beginning to look like he could prove to be a bargain buy. Looking increasingly steady and growing in confidence he did well on 25 minutes when Elphick’s attempted headed clearance instead fell to Ritchie just inside the box who went past Baker all too easily before Pierluigi blocked his effort. Had no chance with the own goal and spared Elphick’s blushes with a good stop from Gayle on 36 minutes. Pushed a solid shot from Shelvey from outside of the box to his left where Amavi was at hand to clear on 53 minutes.
Albert Adomah – 6 – Inexplicably played at wing back rather than in the more forward role for which he was bought and that was occupied by Bacuna yesterday. Did a surprisingly decent job at the back but was far more effective when he got further forward. Needs to start ahead of Bacuna.
James Chester - 6 – The most effective of our three central defenders yesterday.
Tommy Elphick – 4 – This was some way off being a confident and assured performance. Tommy looked jittery more than once and turned in Yedlin’s 28th minute cross with his right foot under pressure from Gayle for their goal. At times it pays to clear the ball first time rather than to try to play it out of defence when under pressure. That time came in the 36th minute when our captain wanted too long on the ball after Jedinak had played it back to him in the middle of his own half and Gayle took it off him ran clear and was only denied by Gollini’s left leg when in a one against one situation. Headed an Ayew corner wide on 85 minutes when unmarked.
Nathan Baker – 5 – Substituted at half time. Did well to win the ball from Gayle who had cut past Elphick when a second goal had looked on.
Jordan Amavi – 7 – Made some very good forward runs. Hit a nice cross on 31 minutes that was just too high for Adomah to get his head to and hit another to the same player who stretched to reach it but was unable to manage to turn it towards goal.
Leandro Bacuna – 5 – Won a 9th minute challenge in the centre circle but having ran to the edge of the box delayed pulling the trigger and Gouffran got back to steal the ball away from him. If he is to play it should be at full back if he is deemed to be a better choice there than is Hutton or even Richards who unlike Leo remains persona non grata at the club.
Ashley Westwood – 5 – Substituted on 85 minutes he continues to be a long way off his best of a couple of seasons ago.
Mile Jedinak – 5 – Marginally offside when he headed a 68th minute Ayew free kick past the keeper and into the net. Hit some misplaced passes and struggled for pace at times in a midfield that did not really get going until the last half hour or so of the game.
Jordan Ayew – 7 – Far too quiet in the first half but he did suffer from a lack of service. Burst into life in the second half and did a lot to make our comeback happen. He hit a number of accurate corners and free-kicks that put the visitor’s defence under increasing pressure and made some threatening runs. So unlucky on 72 minutes when he ran from a wide position to the edge of the box before curling a shot that hit the far post with the keeper beaten. Took the ball off Shelvey as he attempted to move the ball further away from his own penalty area before running into the area and playing a ball into the 6-yard box that Kodjia was so near to getting a foot to at the near post before the relieved Sels gathered it on 91 minutes.
Jonathan Kodjia – 7 – Like Jordan he was starved of service but he kept looking for the ball and looking to make runs at defenders. Adomah played a good ball down the line to him in the 4th minute but having run into the box he delayed taking a shot which allowed Clark to get into position to make a block. Flagged offside on 43 minutes after Jedinak had played a fine ball to him from just inside the visitor’s half and his shot from near the penalty spot was saved by Sels.
Aaron Tshibola – 8 – MOTM - Replaced Baker for the second half and his introduction did much to change the course of this match. Played a nice one-two with Ayew on the edge of the box on 79 minutes and was booked for hitting the deck rather than awarded a penalty after a defender had made contact with him without making any serious attempt to win the ball inside of the box. Headed in our equalizer on 88 minutes at the far post which went past the keeper and in off the post. He shows a lot of promise, was our best midfield player by some distance and we can only hope he can now stay injury free.
Rudy Gestede – 5 - Replaced Adomah on 63 minutes. Headed wide from an Ayew cross on 70 minutes and had an effort from just outside of the area pushed around the post for a 92nd minute corner by Sels.
Rushian Hepburn-Murphy – Came on for Westwood on 85 minutes and did not look out of place. Rushian was not on quite long enough to earn a rating.
Up the Villa!