NEWCASTLE head into the New Year in the Premier League’s top three for only the third time despite drawing 0-0 with Leeds.
But the side who were in the bottom two a year ago wasted chances to win their seventh game in a row and play catch-up with the top two.
It was a frustrating afternoon for Newcastle as they failed to score with 16 shotsCredit: AFP
Bruno Guimaraes paid tribute to Pele by wearing a Brazil shirt before kick-offCredit: Reuters
Eddie Howe’s side lost points, lost ground on Arsenal and lost their heads, as Leeds United frustrated them in the showers at St James’ Park.
Brazil star Bruno Guimaraes had wanted to end the year with his own tribute to Pele and to lead Newcastle into 2023 on a high.
He even wore his own Brazil No.10 shirt in the pre-match minute’s silence as a personal tribute to the Brazilian legend.
But Bruno – given a standing ovation by the Toon Army – was fortunate not to be sent off in the dying seconds for kicking out at Ilan Meslier, just after sub Callum Wilson had fouled the Leeds keeper – as two points slipped out of Newcastle’s hands in the dying minutes.
The point was a hard-earned reward for Leeds who had come to Tyneside to win a point – and celebrated in front of more than 4,000 supporters high in the stands at the final whistle.
Leeds boss Jesse Marsch, who led those celebrations, had made three changes to his starting XI which lost to Manchester City and his side made an encouraging start as the heavens opened over Tyneside.
Wilfried Gnoto even tested Nick Pope in the opening minutes – or tried to – firing the first shot of the game high over the bar and a second looping effort which was deflected over.
Both shots flew high into Gallowgate where, before the game, Newcastle fans had again shown off their impressive flags display, including one designed by defender Dan Burn.
And Burn played an active role at both ends in the first half hour, using his heel to block a low shot from Rodrigo from the edge of the Newcastle area.
He also slipped at the other end of the pitch as he attempted to reach a Kieran Trippier corner in front of goal and failing to make contact with the bouncing ball from Joelinton’s header back across goal.
As the relentless rain continued, and the pitch became increasingly waterlogged and slow, both sides struggled to create opportunities beyond set pieces.
Former Leeds striker Chris Wood struggled to make any impact after squandering his best chance in the sixth minute when he skipped round Illan Meslier but then failed to connect with the final goal-bound shot and the ball trickled behind.
Like his defensive partner Burn, Fabian Schar wasted a good opening from a Trippier corner from the right when he powered his header off target halfway through the first half.
And Sven Botman became the third Newcastle defender to flop in front of goal when he also slipped as he made the decisive touch to Trippier’s deep free-kick into the area.
Marsch may have made significant changes to his side for his first visit to St James’ Park but the American coach’s true intentions were probably revealed midway through the first period when a routine Newcastle break was halted by his determined back four.
Bruno had started the move with a firm pass from his own half which just carried through the puddles, leaving Joe Willock with a free run at the Leeds back-line.
Between them Liam Cooper and Robin Koch sniffed out the danger – Marsch celebrated with a series of fist pumps In front of his bench and maintained his presence there throughout a feisty game.
It was a bruising encounter for Leeds’ former Middlesbrough midfielder Adam Forshaw who had to change his shirt after he was clobbered in the mouth and blood poured down his face through to his under garments.
Forshaw needed five members of the Leeds staff to change shirts and then failed to appear for the second half, replaced by Marc Roca.
And Roca was one of four players to go into referee Simon Hooper’s book, while Newcastle skipper Trippier was also booked for a foul and Schar was cautioned for diving in the Leeds area before half-time after he’d run out of steam at the end of a promising run from his own half.
Joelinton meanwhile was perhaps fortunate Hooper decided not to take more extreme action – or request VAR assistance – when he appeared to lash out at Harrison as tempers frayed in the rain.
Newcastle’s dominance continued after the break and before the introduction of Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin, the best chance fo break the deadlock fell to Wood.
The New Zealand striker – mocked by the impressive travelling support when he stopped aside for England World Cup star Wilson – was bravely denied by Meslier when he ran on to Trippier’s through ball.
The hosts continued to press for an opener but a lack of finesse in front of goal cost them. Sean Longstaff lashed two chances with either foot high and wide and Schar’s radar let him down again just after the re-start. Leeds barely created a thing.
And those frustrations boiled over as Bruno and Wilson lost their rags but a year ago Newcastle were second bottom of the Premier League and just a week away from an embarrassing FA Cup exit at the hands of Cambridge United.
Today they will be disappointed not to be in the top two after they were held back by Leeds.
In his programme notes, Toon boss Howe said: “We can all reflect on 2022 as a really positive one for the club. Just 12 months ago, we were fighting to stay in the league but with a fantastic togetherness and spirit, we achieved our aim in good style.
“This season I feel we’ve made big progress both on and off the pitch. That momentum has only been achieved through a really strong work ethic and teamwork and an unwavering desire for improvement.
“Your support has been – and will continue to be – pivotal on this journey. You’ve followed us across the country in big numbers, and the atmosphere you’ve created at St James’ Park has lifted us to new levels. We all greatly appreciate your efforts and value the connection we share.”