With five games left in the regular season, every point matters for playoff sides. This rings true for Leeds United, especially after earlier results had the club only two points from falling out of the playoffs. Coming into St. James’ Park, Leeds needed to get something out of this game.
The first half was filled with entertaining football, a half that nearly saw Newcastle go up 1-0 before the first minute came to a close. If that didn’t get your heart rate up, the following ten minutes certainly did. Pontus Jansson went down in the fifth minute after a challenge and had to come off for a brief second. Nothing serious happened, but still, it was a worrisome sight to see your star defender go down.
Not too long after, in the eighth minute, Leeds very nearly came to drawing first blood. Alfonso Pedraza’s shot from outside the box beat Newcastle goalie Karl Darlow but did not beat the post. The ball bounced right to the head of Kemar Roofe, but his lofted header was weak and Darlow made a save on his attempt.
A minute later, Newcastle quite literally drew blood first when Jonjo Shelvey’s boot met the headed attempt of Pablo Hernandez. Shelvey was not aiming at Pablo and apologized immediately after, and to be fair Pablo probably should have used his foot in the situation. Nevertheless, Hernandez came off for the Leeds medical staff to bandage him up like Vedran Corluka during Euro ’16, and he came back onto the pitch shortly after.
Through 20 minutes, the Whites in Blue and the Magpies played a very even game, but Newcastle began to pick up the pressure shortly after. In the 25th minute, Shelvey tried, and almost succeeded, in scoring straight from the corner flag. That was one of the many attacks during Newcastle’s ten-minute siege on Leeds’ net, but ultimately nothing came of it.
Then Leeds very nearly took the lead in the 34th, with Pedraza again in the mix of things. It’s up to debate if Alfonso was trying to score or playing a wonderful through ball in for a cutting Roofe, but in the end, his attempt went wide for a goal kick. Newcastle began surging again right before halftime to try to get a goal before the break, but were again denied by Rob Green.
The game entered the half at 0-0.
The second half started, and Newcastle picked up right where they left off. Everything seemed to be going Newcastle’s way. Greeny was immediately called into action on a free kick, not taking any chances on a ball that looked as if it was going wide. In the 51st minute, Jansson was booked for the 14th time this season and is now one away from a three-game ban. Kyle Bartley followed suit, getting himself a yellow for running into Alexandar Mitrović. With absolutely nothing happening for Leeds through 15 minutes, Garry Monk subbed off Pedraza for Hadi Sacko, looking for a bit of pace to help his side out.
Another heart rate-elevating moment happened shortly after when Luke Ayling went to head the ball back to Rob Green. The ball didn’t reach Rob Green, with Mitrović getting to it and chipping the ball over Green on towards the goal, but Jansson got back into to head the ball out of play and, at least for now, away from danger.
Throughout the second half, you could just feel Newcastle would get a goal... and it finally happened by way of Jamaal Lascelles’ headed effort, which was saved by Green but only after the ball fully crossed the line.
Just like that, it was 1-0 Newcastle.
It says a lot about our back line that the score was 1-0 when it very easily could have been 7-0 in favor of Newcastle. Simply put: our defense bends, and maybe sometimes they bend a lot, but rarely do they break beyond repair.
It was in the 83rd minute where I felt the Magpies boss Rafa Benitez started getting too confident. Matt Ritchie and Jonjo Shelvey were the biggest thorns in Leeds’ side in my eyes, so I immediately regained confidence in saving this game when Ritchie came off for Deandre Yedlin. Ayoze Pérez, who himself was having a hell of a game, came off for Momo Diane as Newcastle switched to a 4-5-1 to see this game out.
Controversially, five minutes were added on in extra time.
Newcastle went into time wasting mode, with Shelvey and Mitrović doing everything they could to see this game out. But when all hope was lost, Leeds got the ball for one last Hail Mary attempt to salvage a point from St James’ Park, and their prayers were answered by (you guessed it) the beautiful Kiwi head of Chris Wood.
With almost the last kick of the game, Wood broke the hearts of Newcastle supporters.
This was the greatest heist of a point I’ve seen in quite a while. Newcastle outshot us 22-4 and had 19 corners while we didn’t have a single one. Our boys in blue never stopped fighting, never stopped defending, and a point today was a very important result for the club.
Wolves are up next as they come to Elland Road on Monday, and we’ll be looking for three points to continue our run into the playoffs. MOT.