Soms het dit gelyk asof Allan Saint-Maximin Leeds byna alleen aangeneem het en, vertelend, die stryd was dikwels ver van ongelyk.
Sonder hul aanvallende talisman om, weereens, red tot die redding, Newcastle would surely have been well beaten in a wonderful, thrill a minute, match full of audacious creative improvisation and sometimes kamikaze defending. Instead Saint-Maximin’s stellar equaliser secured their unloved manager, Steve Bruce, a draw.
A point apiece leaves both sides still seeking a first Premierliga win of the season, Bruce confronting increased hostility at St James’ Park and Marcelo Bielsa facing arguably the first real mini “crisis” of his Leeds tenure.
“Of course going five games without a win worries me,” admitted Bielsa. “We had a lot of possession but we were missing some efficiency. We didn’t score in proportion to the amount of chances we created.”
Newcastle were up against it from the early moment when Matt Ritchie was booked for hauling Raphinha down. With Bruce’s left wing-back in peril of collecting a second yellow card, Bielsa’s right-winger sensed opportunity and it was not long before the Brazilian was able to remind everyone of his considerable talent.
No matter that Raphinha’s goal was originally intended as a deep cross, it was a wondrous delivery. Struck with venomous pace and whip, it dipped and curved into the far corner of the recalled Karl Darlow’s goal, leaving Rodrigo – the supposed recipient – to dummy Darlow, leaping out of the way as the ball stole past the wrong footed keeper.
Shortly afterwards there was a comedic cameo when Raphinha tugged Joelinton back so forcefully he removed his compatriot’s shorts but somehow escaped without a booking; perhaps the referee, Mike Dean, was simply starstruck.
Bielsa looked extremely anxious when Saint-Maximin first showed off his terrifyingly impressive change of pace. It left Junior Firpo flat-footed and an ersatz looking visiting defence in deep trouble.
Despite Miguel Almirón miscuing the ensuing opening, Newcastle were afforded a second chance when the ball span free to Joelinton but Illan Meslier denied him, saving the resultant shot with his legs.
y now the persistent, if intermittent,“We want Bruce out” soundtrack had resurfaced at full volume but the mood was leavened by the realisation that an injury and suspension ravaged Leeds backline was distinctly vulnerable. By way of emphasising this point Ritchie’s low shot hit a post.
Bruce’s problem was that his defence was not exactly watertight either and often seemed alarmingly disconnected from a Newcastle’s midfield regularly shredded by their visitors’ sharp, slick, passing.
Not for the first time, an immensely edgy Bruce was baled out by Saint-Maximin. The Frenchman temporarily silenced the hostile chants presumably ringing in his boss’s ears after collecting Joelinton’s smart cut-back and dodging four Leeds defenders before eventually driving an excellent shot low beyond Meslier. “Allan does things no one else can do,” said Newcastle’s manager. “He’s naturally gifted.”
Yet if the decision to deploy Saint-Maximin at the centre of the front three and relocate Joelinton to the left had paid rich dividends, Leeds’ passing remained infinitely superior and, in a frantic conclusion to a thrillingly chaotic, blink and you’ll miss it, first half, Rodrigo and Firpo spurned stellar openings while Raphinha’s shot was blocked, heroically, by Isaac Hayden.
By the interval though Leeds had reason to feel seriously aggrieved Joe Willock did not concede what appeared a glaring penalty after fouling Dan James in the area.
This was the Wales winger’s first start following his £25m move from Manchester United and he endured an often difficult night, struggling to establish left sided connectivity with Firpo.
A slightly autumnal chill had entered the evening air but, by the second half, Bielsa had become sufficiently hot and bothered to remove his tracksuit top and prowl the technical area in a thin, short-sleeved cotton T-shirt. During his three years in charge in West Yorkshire he has rarely seemed this tense.
Perhaps sensing his manager’s tension, Kalvin Phillips strode through midfield with renewed, galvanising, intensity, maar, steeds, the impasse endured. Jack Harrison, sidelined by Covid, was much missed and a strangely subdued Patrick Bamford seemed afflicted by a stasis of his own, drawing curses from Bielsa after shooting straight at Darlow.
"Kom ons wees eerlik, it was like when you play at school,” said Bruce. “It was end to end. After a difficult start our response in difficult circumstances was terrific. But you have to accept that, when you don’t win games, you come under pressure.”