Leeds United 0, Newcastle United 2
We saw this game coming from a long way off, thanks to the international break that followed the last-gasp win at Norwich. From that high point, it seemed reasonable to look forward to scaling even greater peaks. A win over the Geordies would have seen Leeds United at a dizzy fourth in the league, well into nosebleed territory. As it is, a defeat means we remain seventh; probably a realistic benchmark for this Leeds side’s place in the Championship scheme of things.
So, after a good run, we’ve had our reality check and been put in our place – yet Leeds were by no means disgraced and, for large parts of the game, they gave pretty nearly as good as they got. In the important areas of the pitch, though, Newcastle were superior – and they plainly knew it. The confidence with which they approached the game, the relative ease with which they kept Leeds at arm’s length – all of this told us that here was a side well aware they weren’t top without reason. For all that, it took a goalkeeping howler and one moment of top flight class to make the difference on the field show in the scoreline. Leeds had their moments at the other end, but there can be no doubt that Newcastle fully merited this victory.
Leeds will take plenty from this moving forward. There were lessons for youngsters like Vieira and Phillips as well as some of the older heads in the team. The glaring truth of the matter is that Newcastle had a sub on the bench who, at £30m, cost several times the price of the entire Whites squad. As a work in progress, Leeds are several laps behind a Newcastle outfit that must still be hanging its head in shame to be in this league at all. Benitez arrived too late to save the club from its own mistakes last season, but arguably the wrong north-eastern club got relegated. Now, under proper management and a revamped squad, the Geordies are a Premier League force in all but name.
A week to regroup now, and Leeds must be ready for a trip to Rotherham, armed with a determination to embark on another run of success. They will be without the talismanic Pontus Jansson, whose intemperate outburst to the ref tipped him over the suspension threshold. That’s a pity, but nevertheless, United have to get their act together for a battle against the lowly Millers, who will be keen to rub salt in this week’s wounds.
It was a chastening experience today, but no real surprise. Newcastle are the real deal, and they showed it – not in any shimmering brilliance, apart from that one decisive moment, but in their confident approach and efficient game management. But Leeds did OK in defeat; they will play worse this season and win – indeed, they already have. There’s still a long way to go, and United can still look ahead confidently. After all, you don’t meet a team like Newcastle every week.