NEWCASTLE UNITED 2 SOUTHAMPTON 2:
Shane Long’s late equaliser stood between Steve McClaren and a satisfying victory in his first game in charge of Newcastle United, but this was still an occasion that added to the optimism generated on Tyneside by their summer signings.
Fans consigned last season’s problems to history, with 50,000 witnessing McClaren’s return to the Premier League after a nine-year absence. Players who struggled last season have been lifted by the new regime, but they were unable to kick-off their campaign with a victory against a Southampton side that finished seventh last season and was once again mobile and well-drilled.
The Saints, whose manager, Ronald Koeman, missed the match, following surgery on an Achilles tendon injury, led through a 25th-minute header from Graziano Pelle, but Newcastle levelled just before the interval, when Papiss Cisse chested in from close range.
McClaren’s side went ahead when one of the new men, Georginio Wijnaldum, headed in Gabriel Obertan’s excellent cross in the 48th minute — just seconds after Southampton’s Maya Yoshida had failed to find a way past keeper, Tim Krul, from point-blank range.
Newcastle stayed in front until the 79th minute, when Long headed past Krul, exposing one of the concerns that McClaren must deal with in defence in the coming weeks. New signing Chancel Mbemba’s tackling was excellent, although his partnership with Fabricio Coloccini looked less composed whenever they had to deal with crosses.
They allowed Pelle and Long far too much space for their goals and, while McClaren will work with Mbemba and Coloccini to eradicate this worry, he may find it more difficult to handle new signing, Aleksandar Mitrovic. He has a hard-man reputation and justified it when he was booked for a foul on Matt Targett, within three seconds of going on the pitch as a substitute for Cisse. He then was fortunate to escape a red card, after elbowing Maya Yoshida. “It’s what he is,” said McClaren. “He certainly doesn’t hold back and wanted to go on and impress. He is only a young lad and is going to be a player, but we couldn’t have complained if he had got a red card”.
Erwin Koeman, in charge of Southampton in his brother’s absence, was less sanguine about Mitrovic’s contributions to the game. “I don’t think he touched Targett, but if he had done, he could have put him in hospital. He’s a good player and a good signing, but he has to learn things.” The other priority for McClaren is to work on the fitness of his players, who faded in the closing stages against a Southampton side that has benefited from its Europa League games this season.
It could have been costly, because Sadio Mane twice went close to a winner in the final minutes, first being foiled by Jack Colback’s last-gasp tackle, then firing narrowly wide after accelerating beyond two unconvincing challenges. The verdict on Newcastle, however, shows more plus points for the start of their new regime and the supporters liked what they had witnessed.
McClaren said:”I didn’t know what to expect, but the game had everything. We learned so much and we can definitely get better, once we we get our fitness levels up. This is something to build on. If we put in that sort of effort every week, the crowd will appreciate it.” Koeman said: “Ten minutes before the end, I would have been happy with a point, but we are now disappointed. You saw our fitness in the last ten minutes, when we had big chances. You have to score to win, though, and that’s why we leave with mixed feelings.”
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-2-3-1):
Krul; Janmaat, Mbemba, Coloccini, Haidara; Anita (Tiote 68), Colback; Sissoko, Wijnaldum (de Jong 81), Obertan; Cisse (Mitrovic 75).
Stekelenburg; Cedric (Martina 46), Fonte, Yoshida, Targett; Wanyama, Davis; Tadic, Mane, Rodriguez (Long 66); Pelle.
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