Newcastle missed their chance to go back to the top of the Championship after Ciaran Clark headed a late own goal against QPR last night. JohnJo Shelvey gave the promotion hopefuls the perfect start, firing home after just 39 seconds. However Rangers quickly grew into the game and deservedly levelled just before half time thanks to Connor Washington.
Newcastle knew a win would take them above Brighton and back to the submit of the Championship with a win. Matt Ritchie looked to have secured that heading in a Issac Hayden cross nine minutes into the second half. The hosts had chances to kill of Rangers however with a minute to go Clark headed a Kazenga Lua Lua cross beyond Karl Darlow to give Ian Holloway’s men a point on Tyneside.
Fresh from their 3-0 FA Cup defeat to Oxford on Saturday, Magpies boss Rafa Bentitez made nine changes. Only Isaac Hayden and Ayoze Perez remained in the starting 11, Daryl Murphy led the line for the Magpies in the absence of Dwight Gayle while Karl Darlow returned in goal.
Ian Holloway made four changes to his side that lost 2-1 to Burton Albion on Saturday. Connor Washington and Jamie Mackie started in attack with Idrissa Sylla missing through injury while Kazenga Lua Lua dropped to the bench. James Perch started against his old club while Ryan Manning started in midfield. January signings Luke Freeman and Sean Goss were named on the bench.
The game was barely 39 seconds old when JohnJo Shelvey fired Rafa Benitez’s men ahead. Isaac Hayden’s run down the left saw his cross headed out to Shelvey who was arriving on the edge of the penalty area. The former Swansea man unleashed a low drive which beat Alex Smithies in the Rangers goal to give Newcastle the perfect start.
The Magpies started with a fast tempo with Yoan Gouffran next to test Smithies in the Rangers goal but his tame shot was easily gathered by the former Huddersfield keeper. Rangers set up in a 5-3-2 formation looking to hit their hosts on the break at every opportunity and nearly drew level on seven minutes. Jake Bidwell found Massimo Luonga on the left hand side and the former Swindon man cut back on to his right food and curled a shot agonisingly wide of the far post.
Newcastle were finding it difficult to create going forward with Shelvey and Hayden dropping short to receive possession. However the nervousness around St James Park was easily to feel especially when Rangers countered. Midfielder Pawel Wszolek wasted a wonderful chance when Connor Washington’s through ball found him but he delayed too long allowing Jamal Lascelles to clear the danger.
Rangers were creating by far the better opportunities and the willingness of both Mackie and Washington to run into the channels was helping the away side. Washington’s run in to the left channel should have created the leveller for Holloway’s men. His teasing cross found the late arriving Luonga however Darlow saved smartly down to his left.
Luonga had an effort from distance blocked but Wszolek was causing the home side all kinds of problems defensively. The Polish midfielder was forcing the Magpies back line into mistakes, linking up very well with Washington and Mackie. It was Wszolek persistence which helped Rangers level just before the break. His pressure forced a corner for his side, Ryan Manning’s delivery was only half cleared to Bidwell on the edge of the box. The left back’s shot fell kindly to Washington who tapped home to draw Rangers level.
With the sides level at the break, the home crowd were restless with the amount of poor mistakes through lack of concentration. Matt Ritchie swapped flanks in the second half looking to combine with Paul Dummett down the left. But it was Ciaran Clark who wasted the first chance of the half, heading over a Shelvey corner.
The wasting of possession in defensive errors was giving Rangers confidence, with Holloway telling his players to press the Newcastle defense. Wszolek was presented with a glorious chance to put Rangers ahead when Dummett poor control let in the Polish ace however Darlow saved smartly.
The home crowd was getting ever more restless but were back celebrating nine minutes into the second half. Hayden’s run in the inside right position saw his cross headed home at the back post by Matt Ritchie to restore their lead. The home side were looking to put the game to bed with Ritchie and Shelvey both having efforts blocked on the hour mark before Jamal Lascelles could only screw a shot wide from a corner.
Benitez threw on Sammy Ameobi on in place of the ineffective Daryl Murphy, allowing Gouffran to play centrally with Ayoze Perez just off of him. Holloway threw on new signing Luke Freeman in place of Ryan Manning while former Magpie Kazenga Lua Lua replace Jamie Mackie in attack.
Rangers were thankful for Alex Smithies who twice prevented Newcastle from adding a third. First saving smartly from Gouffran then producing a fine bit of keeping against Perez who was one on one with him. But the more Rangers remained in the game, the more anxious the home side were becoming.
Holloway threw on his deadline day signing Sean Goss in place of Darnell Furlong as he searched for an equaliser at St James. The move allowed his side to play 4-3-3 with Lua Lua moved to a left wing berth, allowing him to cut in. The mood on Tyneside was of nervousness which grew with every minute.
The anxious was merited as the clock ebbed towards 90, when Lua Lua cut in from the left hand side whipping in a cross. With only Washington in the penalty area, Ciaran Clark misjudged his header and Karl Darlow could only watched the ball sail over his head and into his own net. The goal sent the travelling Rangers fans into celebration, if they could see up in Gods.
The Rangers bench erupted with jubilation while the moans and groans of the home fans was clear to see. Neither side were able to create and had to settle for a point with Newcastle missing the chance to leap frog Brigthon ahead of the Seagulla clash at Huddersfield tonight.
Holloway’s men deserved a point of Tyneside, with on another day they could have had two or three in the first period. Newcastle missed the presence of Dwight Gayle in attack with Daryl Murphy pretty much non existent for much of the 66 minutes he was on the park for.
Newcastle host Derby County on Saturday and will be aware that Leeds and Brighton are breathing down their neck in 3rd and 4th respectively. Rangers’s point moves them up to 18th, with their performance pleasing Holloway in the away dug out. In Pawl Wszolek they have a player with a lot of potential.