COMMENT By Matt Farr
Football Insider analyses three of the main talking points from Newcastle’s 1-1 draw with Leeds in the Championship on Friday night.
Champagne on ice
Chris Wood’s last-gasp equaliser left Newcastle devastated at the final-whistle, but the point means they still move one step closer to sealing immediate promotion back to the Premier League. They are now eight points clear of third-placed Huddersfield, while their 15-point advantage above seventh-placed Fulham means they are already at least guaranteed a play-off place. Had they held on to win the tie, three points against Ipswich Town on Monday night could have seen them complete the task at hand and book their place in the top flight as one of the Championship’s two automatically-promoted sides. That would also, however, have depended on Huddersfield losing Derby, but Newcastle’s job is almost complete. Their title bid is still alive, but they will already have the champagne on ice for their pending promotion.
Frustration for Benitez
The late Leeds equaliser aside, there will be cause for Rafa Benitez to feel frustrated at the manner of the performance. There were times when Leeds grew into the game perhaps more than Newcastle would have liked for the home side, while there were also times when Newcastle looked as though they simply wouldn’t break through a resilient Leeds defence. Pontus Jansson was particularly heroic in his defensive efforts, albeit in vain, denying Newcastle on several occasions with last-ditch challenges and blocks. But Newcastle were also wasteful in possession, and that would perhaps be the biggest frustration for Benitez. Even as they move closer to a Premier League return, there is still plenty of work to be done in training, which has been the case for much of the campaign. Wood’s last-minute goal wouldn’t have helped, either.
Benitez made the right call
The absence of top goalscorer Dwight Gayle left Benitez with a major selection dilemma. Would it be Aleksandar Mitrovic or Daryl Murphy leading the attack for Newcastle? He handed the opportunity to the former, and although Mitrovic did not get on the scoresheet, Benitez evidently made the right call. The 22-year-old is a very physical player, and he was determined to get under the skin of the Leeds centre-back pairing of Kyle Bartley and Jansson. The latter, in particular, has proven notorious for picking up yellow cards this season, and Mitrovic set about ensuring the Swedish defender continued his rather unflattering trend. He also saw Bartley going into the referee’s book. albeit for a nothing-challenge, but Mitrovic firmly made his presence known.
In other Newcastle news, Football Insider has rated the Magpies players during the stalemate.