Rodrigo, under pressure from outside if not from his loyal coach after poor recent performances, made his biggest contribution to Leeds United’s 1-1 draw at Newcastle United by not touching the ball, sensibly jumping over Raphinha’s cross. With Karl Darlow unable to commit until it went past the Spaniard, he was unable to stop it curling inside the far post.
At that point, with the atmosphere in St James’ Park toxic, it looked like Leeds could hand out a hammering but late in the first half Allan Saint-Maximin wisely passed up the chance to shoot twice before a gap finally opened up for him to find.
Last season Leeds played joyously open football before Christmas, striking a slightly more conservative balance after. At the start of this season it has been back to dizzying end-to-end football but despite that, there would be no more goals, no first Premier League win of the campaign for either side.
Bielsa felt his team “dominated” and “should have won the game” with the chances they had but they were made to work hard defensively too.
As the search for a win goes on, injuries are starting to test a squad kept deliberately small by Marcelo Bielsa. Raphinha was strapped up when he made way in the second half, and Leeds’s centre-back shortage got worse when Luke Ayling – a makeshift alongside the club’s only fit senior specialist, Liam Cooper – went off injured. Jack Harrison became the third Leeds player in a month to contract Covid-19. When things are just not going for you, that is the way of it.
It looked like Newcastle’s fans were going to do their bit to help them.
The “We want Brucey out!” chants started in the third minute but they went up three or four notches when Raphinha found the net. With the natives as restless as they are, being at home is no advantage for them.
The less frequent chants of “We’ll support you ever more” were a touch ironic, although the fans would tell you they support the team, not the regime.
Leeds were firmly on top at that point, Patrick Bamford volleying over early on, Raphinha only able to direct his shot at the goalkeeper when he slid in,
There was no easing up when they took the lead, but Mateusz Klich’s shot was comfortable for Darlow. When Raphinha got in behind Matt Ritchie, the wing-back recovered well to concede a corner. When Bamford’s header was cleared, Darlow’s save from Raphinha was unconvincing, but a save nevertheless.
Then about 20 minutes in, Newcastle rallied. In Saint-Maximin they have a winger with the pace and skill to trouble anyone, and Cooper struggled to contain him.
Saint-Maximin’s surging run ought to have created an equaliser, Miguel Almiron unwittingly teeing up Joelinton, his shot was so bad. Illan Meslier made a good save with his legs, but should not have had the chance.
Joe Willock steered a shot over and Ayling needed to make a good slide tackle on the midfielder. With 10 minutes to half-time, Ritchie hit the inside of the post with Meslier beaten.
The game was open, Kalvin Phillips thudding a shot close enough for the Leeds fans miles away in the stand just prodding through the hole in the ozone layer to briefly celebrate a goal.
Darlow saved from Klich when Raphinha pulled the ball back to him. When Junior Firpo skipped down the left he found Raphinha in a huge amount of space but the winger wanted too much time to consider his options, and Isaac Hayden got back to throw himself in the line of fire.
Dan James, on his full debut in for Harrison, badly shanked a shot at the start of the half and eventually made way after a disappointing evening. Crysencio Summerville later made his debut as Raphinha’s replacement and Phillips ended up as Cooper’s central defensive partner.
Darlow had a rush of blood after 53 minutes, Raphinha catching him out but unable to take advantage. When James crossed, Jamaal Lascelles’s touch required a save. Newcastle, though, arguably had the better second half, Meslier making a good near-post save when Saint-Maximin had a second bite at a shot. Sean Longstaff shot wide under pressure from Phillips.
At the other end Bamford and Klich, more than once, shot at the keeper and had another shot blocked. With six minutes to go Saint-Maximin cut inside and forced a save but by then it seemed clear that for all the attacking from both sides, there would be no more goals.
Newcastle United: Darlow; Manquillo (Krafth 82), Hayden, Lascelles, Clark, Ritchie; Almiron (Fraser 62), Willock, S Longstaff, Joelinton (Murphy 90); Saint-Maximin. Unused substitutes: Schar, Lewis, Hendrick, Fernandez, Gillespie, Gayle.
Leeds United: Meslier; Dallas, Ayling (Shackleton 90), Cooper, Firpo; Phillips; Raphinha (Summerville 68), Klich, Rodrigo, James (Roberts 62); Bamford. Unused substitutes: Klaesson, Cresswell, McKinstry, Greenwood, McCarron, Kenneh.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).