Being an overseas Newcastle United fan is different. People are constantly taken aback when they find out who I support. “NEWCASTLE?”, “That must be tough” and “Why?” are the common responses to the reveal.
It’s for days like yesterday. Imagine being a Manchester City fan. You expect your team to score three or four goals a game and you get to watch arguably the best team in Premier League history.
The feeling must be one of complete satisfaction. They’re in heaven. But will their feeling even compare to what Newcastle fans have inside at the moment? The feeling of, against all odds, pulling out a result as big as that?
The feeling of a United crowd, team and staff overcoming incompetent officials and a squad of players worth nearly £400m? I don’t believe so.
In my short lifetime, I have not seen a Newcastle side like this one. I have seen immensely talented players not realise the true extent of their occupation and watched them not give a rats. They thought they were too big for Newcastle, but in reality, Newcastle was too big for them.
This squad is different. For what they lack in skill or talent, they make up for with unity, desire and resilience. They know what it means to play for the club and in the modern era of football, that is a rarity.
Compare the organisation of the current side to Steve McClaren’s abomination of a setup in 2015 and you will realise the job Rafa Benitez has done.
When Man City win the Premier League, I doubt their fans will feel what I and millions of Newcastle fans feel right now. Now, onto the game
United came out the blocks flying, as we tend to do under Rafa. Our aggression and intense pressing reminded Mourinho’s stars that this was not going to be a walk in the park for them.
Smalling and Jones showed early signs of hesitance on the ball. Pogba was a ghost and Lukaku wasn’t given a minute.
Newcastle should have taken the lead through a terrific strike by Jonjo Shelvey but unfortunately, his venomous strike was met by the hands of the one keeper in the division capable of saving a shot like that; David de Gea.
The game started to sway towards Manchester United in the latter stages of the second half. Lingard was denied by Dubravka and Martial had a one-on-one chance smartly saved by the Slovakian debutant.
“Just get to half-time at nil-nil and regroup” were my thoughts. However, it could have and should have been better than nil-nil after Dwight Gayle was denied a blatant penalty.
It was a clear foul and Craig Pawson bottled it. He didn’t want to give a free-kick in case it was a penalty, or a penalty if it was a free-kick, and so he avoided the decision entirely.
Man United started the second-half well and were on top. They had most of the possession but Rafa had his side very well organised and compact. Romelu Lukaku came out of Florian Lejeune’s pocket for a few minutes.
He was correctly denied a goal for a clear shove in the box and set up Alexis Sanchez for the chance of the game. The Chilean had the goal at his mercy but delayed the shot which allowed the brilliant Lejeune to get back and block the goal-bound strike.
“This could be our day here,” I remember thinking to myself.
Chris Smalling would then make the staggering decision to dive on the halfway line as his side pushed to get in front. The only way to properly punish a dive like that, from a centre-half, is to have the opposition score from the resulting free-kick.
And low and behold, it happened.
Jonjo Shelvey lofted the ball to the back post and it was as if Florian Lejeune had used an imaginary trampoline to leap and head across goal. Dwight Gayle exquisitely flicked the ball into a wide open space within eight or nine yards of the goal.
This will sound odd considering that before yesterday, Matt Ritchie had taken the most shots (43) of anyone in the league without scoring a goal, but if I want that ball to fall to anyone, it’s him.
It does and he makes no mistake. The roar is deafening. It’s what being a supporter is all about. And outside of that terrific stadium, you can bet your bottom dollar that millions of Toon fans around the world, from their living rooms and from pubs, screamed too.
30 minutes left. Let’s take it one minute at a time. Dubravka saves from Young. 20 minutes left, but it feels like an eternity.
Sanchez, Martial, Mata, Lukaku and company began to throw everything at United’s defence. Chris Smalling went up top. Corner after corner. Will one of them pay off for Mourinho?
One of them almost did. It falls to Martial, who hits it, but Newcastle’s number nine is there to block. It falls back, he hits it again, but our striker is there again. The noise levels rise.
If anything sums up this side, it’s our striker preventing two goals instead of scoring them and that isn’t a criticism.
Into added time now. All that talk from Rafa about game management has seeped its way through to the players. They’re earning free-kicks, they’re kicking the ball into the stands and they’re staying tight.
Martin Dubravka had one of the best debuts for a Newcastle player for a long time, and that was before his game-winning save right at the death.
He was commanding, quick off his feet and just absolutely fantastic but he still had something left up his sleeve. The ball finds its way to Newcastle-born veteran Michael Carrick deep into added time and deep inside our box.
He does well to hit it. “That’s in,” I thought. But Martin Dubravka had other ideas and with the reflexes of a puma, he turned his body, dived to his left and tipped the ball away from goal. Valencia hits a tame shot which is deflected right into our new number one’s hands.
Matt Ritchie can be seen celebrating as the ball goes safely into his teammate’s hands. It’s over. Newcastle have won and everyone in the crowd is elated. It was not just a vital three points, but also a famous win against Manchester United.
There was not one bad performance from a Newcastle player.
Dubravka was sensational. Lascelles and Lejeune made Smalling and Jones look like schoolboys. Yedlin and Dummett defended well against top drawer wingers. Mo Diame was everywhere and so was Jonjo Shelvey, who reminded everyone of the player he can be.
Ritchie was the match-winner and Kenedy showed discipline and knowledge of the full-back behind him. Perez and Gayle’s constant pressing made them a nightmare for Mourinho’s defenders. Rafa outclassed Jose.
It’s an international break now and this feeling won’t go away anytime soon. Days like yesterday is why I’m a Newcastle fan.