Allan Saint-Maximin shines as Newcastle and Leeds share spoils

Steve Bruce comes under fire from fans again but talisman manages to rescue a point

Newcastle United’s Allan Saint-Maximin celebrates scoring their side’s first goal of the game with team-mates and fans during the Premier League draw with Leeds at St James’ Park. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

Newcastle United’s Allan Saint-Maximin celebrates scoring their side’s first goal of the game with team-mates and fans during the Premier League draw with Leeds at St James’ Park. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

 

Newcastle United 1 Leeds United 1

At times it seemed as if Allan Saint-Maximin was taking Leeds on almost single-handedly and, tellingly, the struggle was often far from unequal.

Without their attacking talisman to, once again, ride to the rescue, 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 point.

It left both sides still seeking their first Premier League 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.

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 – its supposed recipient – to dummy Darlow before leaping out of the way as it 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. The winger somehow escaped without a booking; perhaps the referee, Mike Dean, was simply starstruck by his goal.

Bielsa looked extremely anxious when Allan Saint-Maximin showed off his terrifyingly impressive change of pace. It left Junior Firpo flat-footed and an ersatz looking visiting defence in deep trouble when Saint-Maximin picked out Miguel Almirón.

Despite the Paraguayan miscuing, Newcastle were afforded a second chance when the ball span free to Joelinton but Illan Meslier denied him, saving his shot with his legs.

In the immediate aftermath of Raphinha’s goal, the “We want Bruce out|” chants resurfaced at full volume but the mood was leavened by the realisation that a Leeds backline lacking the injured Diego Llorente and Robin Koch and the suspended Pascal Struijk 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. Indeed Leeds should probably have doubled their advantage when Patrick Bamford and Daniel James bisected the latter department only for Rodrigo to curl a fine chance wide.

Small wonder Newcastle’s manager appeared immensely edgy but, not for the first time, he was rescued by Saint-Maximin. The Frenchman temporarily silenced the hostile soundtrack presumably ringing in Bruce’s ears after collecting Joelinton’s smart cut-back and dodging four Leeds defenders before eventually driving an excellent shot low beyond Meslier.

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 for Newcastle, Leeds’ passing remained far superior.

Sure enough, in a frantic conclusion to a thrillingly chaotic, blink and you’ll miss it, first half, Raphinha, James and Firpo all might have restored the visiting lead.

Had Bielsa viewed a replay of the first half moment when Joe Willock fouled James in the area during the interval he would surely have felt aggrieved that his team were not awarded a penalty.

This was James’s first start following his £25m move from Manchester United and he endured an often difficult night, struggling to establish any sort of connectivity with Firpo down Bielsa’s left flank.

A slightly autumnal chill had entered the night air but, by the second half, the Leeds manager had become sufficiently hot and bothered to remove his tracksuit top and prowl his technical area in a thin, short-sleeved cotton T-shirt. During his three years in charge in West Yorkshire Bielsa has rarely seemed this tense.

As Kalvin Phillips strode through midfield, endeavouring to galvanise Bielsa’s team, James made way for Tyler Roberts but, still, the score remained level.

The bad news for Leeds fans is that Bamford seems afflicted by a different, if equally debilitating form of stasis.

How Bielsa cursed as the newly anointed England striker missed a rare second half chance, shooting straight at Darlow, on a strangely subdued night. Maybe he was missing the service usually provided by the Covid stricken winger Jack Harrison. – Guardian

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