Friday 22 November 2019

Ritchie hits City's title hopes to open door for Reds

Newcastle United 2 Manchester City 1

Manchester City Goalkeeper Ederson is unable to stop Matt Ritchie from the penalty spot. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Manchester City Goalkeeper Ederson is unable to stop Matt Ritchie from the penalty spot. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Martin Hardy

They were rather keen on raising a glass to Rafa Benitez in Liverpool anyway, but last night he moved his old club a huge step closer to a first ever Premier League title with a dramatic victory at St James' Park.

They were rather keen on raising a glass to Rafa Benitez in Liverpool anyway, but last night he moved his old club a huge step closer to a first ever Premier League title with a dramatic victory at St James' Park.

Benitez's name reverberated around Tyneside at full-time, the magnitude of a most unlikely win not lost on a club wrestling with its own demons and a very real threat of relegation.

The significance of success, however, ran much deeper. This was Manchester City's chance to squeeze the gap at the top to Liverpool, who play tonight, to one point. City, who led after just 24 seconds, blew it.

Pep Guardiola shook the hand of Benitez at full-time and immediately slipped quietly up the tunnel, and away from the celebrations his countryman was in the middle of.

His side had conceded their first goals in seven games on a truly stunning evening, first to Salomon Rondon, and then, with ten minutes remaining, to Matt Ritchie. His players looked shellshocked as they filtered towards the visitors' dressing room.

Matt Ritchie goes to ground after a challenge from Kevin De Bruyne. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Matt Ritchie goes to ground after a challenge from Kevin De Bruyne. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Initiative moved to the north-west. Liverpool's chance to stretch their advantage to seven points will rouse Anfield for the visit of Leicester.

Newcastle had famously given the ball to City from kick-off when the two teams met at St James' Park last season. Then Jonjo Shelvey booted the ball straight to Ederson in the Manchester City goal as soon as the game had begun and everyone in black and white stayed in their own half. This time Newcastle showed more attacking ambition, going back, and then going long, with seven players in the visitors' half. That proved fatal, the ball failed to reach Christian Atsu and City broke.

David Silva, from his own half, picked out Raheem Sterling on the edge of the home penalty area, and, with Newcastle so committed, Raheem Sterling was free to run at Florian Lejeune, one of three central defenders chosen by Benitez.

Floated

Salomon Rondon scores the equaliser for Newcastle United. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Salomon Rondon scores the equaliser for Newcastle United. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

The tackle did not come and Sterling floated a cross to the far post, which, Silva, in a show of his desire, had reached. He appeared to slip, and collide with Martin Dubravka, but still had the nous to follow the track of the ball and head it into the six-yard area, from where Sergio Aguero smashed his volley into the Newcastle goal. Twenty-four seconds of the game had gone.

A capitulation seemed likely from there, and controversy felt only the slimmest of possibility when Kevin De Bruyne bent a quick free-kick down the right and Aguero crashed a second shot past Dubravka for the second time.

Replays would show that referee Paul Tierney had instructed De Bruyne to wait until he took his position, but there was initial criticism at the decision, and for his quick thinking he was shown a yellow card that would prove highly significant.

Christian Atsu did have a shot deflected over the crossbar, but there had not been a shot on target for the home side by half-time and it was Dubravka who had saved from Aguero, with Lejeune then blocking a goal-bound shot from Silva, just before half-time.

Rafa Benitez embraces Raheem Sterling. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Rafa Benitez embraces Raheem Sterling. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

There was a fine save from Dubravka, early in the second half, to deny Leroy Sane. The script felt predictable at that point, but a challenge from De Bruyne on Matt Ritchie would prove influential. Tierney ignored calls from both Newcastle players and the home crowd fora second yellow, but Guardiola still withdrew the player, who looked bemused, in the 65th minute. A minute later, Newcastle had equalised.

Ritchie crossed from the left and the defensive header went only as far as Isaac Hayden, on the edge of the Manchester City penalty area. He looped what was a hopeful header back in the visitor' penalty area and there was still a cluster of defenders to deal with it, but Atsu was a nuisance and Rondon used his physical presence to create the pace to volley into the ground.

The ball bounced up and into the top corner of Ederson's goal. Guardiola, in his seat in the visitors dugout did not move. Benitez walked back to his own dugout, devoid of any emotion. That felt fairly extraordinary, but it was nothing to what would follow, when, under pressure from a Newcastle press, Fernandinho lost possession to Sean Longstaff and in his haste to retrieve the ball, clipped the player, in his own penalty area.

There would be treatment for Ederson, an elastoplast carefully placed on his knee, but the wait, of around two minutes, did not distract Ritchie. The Newcastle midfielder, an emergency left wing-back, smashed a left-footed shot from the spot-kick under the body of the City 'keeper. He charged to the corner flag and smashed that, but it was City's title hopes that had been dealt the biggest blow. (© Independent News Service)

Pep Guardiola shows his frustration during Manchester City’s shock 2-1 defeat against Newcastle last night. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Pep Guardiola shows his frustration during Manchester City’s shock 2-1 defeat against Newcastle last night. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

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