Man City storm back to deny Newcastle as six-goal thriller ends level

Manchester City were in trouble but fought back to claim a draw

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If this exhilarating start to a new Premier League season was still missing something, it was a dash of uncertainty over who will ultimately come out on top. While those considered their title rivals have slipped up around them, Manchester City had made a predictably imperious start up until this visit to St James’ Park, perfectly setting themselves up for a second straight title defence. Yet in another remarkable game, one of several we have already witnessed just three weeks into this new campaign, they were held to a 3-3 draw, dropped their first points of the season and, at times, even looked vulnerable.

Pep Guardiola cut a frustrated figure on the touchline but when all is said and done in May, this may be looked back upon as a respectable point away from home against a rising force.

After all, it could have been worse. Newcastle United’s steady improvement under Eddie Howe’s guidance appeared as though it would earn a statement win when Kieran Trippier’s free-kick added to Miguel Almiron and Callum Wilson’s strikes to set up a two-goal lead at the start of the second half. Yet a two-minute salvo, one from Erling Haaland and another by Bernardo Silva, rescued the champions from defeat.

This has become known as the Premier League’s sportswashing derby, between two rival petrostates who, in the debate over modern football’s intermeshing with matters of geopolitics, have more in common than that which divides them. Nevertheless, these are two clubs on very different paths to potential world domination. Newcastle’s spending this summer has been relatively measured by new money standards, partly as a consequence of financial fair play regulations that were not in place at the start of City’s rise.

Given that, and Abu Dhabi’s head start of more than a decade in Manchester, there is still a huge discrepancy between the two teams on paper. Take the left-backs, for example. City’s is redefining the role and regarded as among the best in Europe. Newcastle’s is 6ft6in tall and in the autumn of a playing career that has taken in spells at Darlington, Yeovil and Wigan. And if this talent gap was clear from the team sheet, it initially seemed as though it would tell on the pitch when the champions raced into a sixth-minute lead.

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Bernardo, now expected to spend at least another year in Manchester and making his first league start of the season from the right wing, took a pair of Newcastle players for a stroll down that side of the pitch before cutting back into acres of space and onto his natural left foot. His cross met the ghosting run of City’s newly-appointed club captain Ilkay Gundogan, who took a touch to cushion the ball down then successfully deceived Nick Pope with a near-post finish for his second goal in as many games.

City won both of last season’s meetings against a post-takeover Newcastle by an aggregate score of 9-0 and at that early stage, the type of walkover that Guardiola’s side specialise in seemed possible.

Yet Newcastle have taken great strides since going down by four to the champions last December, while the five-goal defeat at the Etihad in May was an anomaly in their otherwise impressive end to the campaign. At 1-0, a glaring miss by Almiron and the effervescent Allan Saint-Maximin forcing a parry out of Ederson were warning shots that City failed to heed.

Saint-Maximin’s direct running with the ball was especially causing problems. Both Kyle Walker and Rodri were sucked in by it out on the left wing, allowing Saint-Maximin to check back inside and deliver a low cross into the six-yard box. Almiron somehow bundled the ball over the line while throwing his body towards it. Quite what part of his anatomy got the final touch was difficult to tell. Whatever it was – perhaps a thigh – it was onside, as a VAR check confirmed after the flag was initially raised.

Sensing they had City on the ropes, Newcastle pressed on. Almiron might have scored a second into an open net after exposing Ederson’s typically adventurous positioning and rounding him, but the angle narrowed and his attempt was blocked.

The lead came minutes later though and through more brilliant running by Saint-Maximin, who backed up John Stones until there was space for a pass through to Wilson. A step inside substitute Ruben Dias – on early for the injured Nathan Ake – left the Newcastle striker with a straightforward finish past Ederson.

City deserved to be behind. Guardiola’s side had not matched Newcastle’s intensity since going ahead, while their usual defensive solidity through possession had deserted them. Haaland’s first major impact on proceedings was to hit the post at the start of the second half but Newcastle would score again before there was any sort of response from the champions. When Trippier bent in a free-kick in front of the Gallowgate for the third, St James’ Park was ready to witness a famous win.

Yet City inevitably did respond, as they usually do, and in unrelenting attacking waves that usually break even the stiffest resistance.

Newcastle held out for just six minutes after Trippier’s free-kick, with Haaland thumping a volley in at close range after Rodri’s knockdown on a cross to the far post. City had battered that one in but the equaliser was brushed through Newcastle’s defence by De Bruyne. A sublime pass broke through three black-and-white lines of pressure to find Bernardo unmarked inside the box to slot past the onrushing Pope.

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That would be the end of the scoring, if not the drama. Trippier briefly saw red for a forceful challenge on De Bruyne that, at first glance, bordered on the excessive. Referee Jarred Gillett believed it worthy of an instant dismissal but reversed his decision after reviewing the pitchside monitor. On the replays, it was more cynical than it was dangerous.

Trippier was reprieved and given how City set up camp in Newcastle’s half in the final stages, his presence was welcome. Through some resolute defending, and particularly Pope’s alert goalkeeping, Newcastle held on for a point that they will cherish far more than the champions.

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