FOR TWO proud and exalted fanbases whose chants are once again thankfully filled with harmony and hope as opposed to hate, Friday night was an opportunity to congregate and express gratitude.
Songs in praise of Rafael Benitez and Garry Monk, the clubs’ respected leaders, paid tribute to the way each has improved the fortunes of Newcastle United and Leeds United respectively.
But on a big day in the north in a season of reawakening in the Gallowgate and the Geldard, there was also acknowledgement that work is plainly still to be done before either can reach the promised land of Premeir League football.
On a tense evening for the two divisional heavyweights, more especially for Leeds given events at Sheffield and Norwich earlier in the day, Newcastle were tantalisingly on the cusp of taking another important stride towards their craved-for destination – only for the Whites to give thanks to a familiar source.
It was a night when top-scorer Chris Wood fed on crumbs, like alone scraps. But as top-dollar strikers invariably do, the one chance that was afforded to him was dispatched unerringly.
Wood had to wait until the fifth minute of stoppage-time for his moment.
But when needs must, his finish from Kemar Roofe’s splendid cross was clinical and jaw-dropping in the circumstances.
It took the Kiwi’s season’s haul to an outstanding 28 and even accounting for his plethora of sweet contributions in an unforgettable season, his strike last night must surely take pride of place.
It was the prelude to mass deflation among the vast majority of the stunned 52,301 home crowd, whose heroes’ promotion coronation must wait, with ecstasy and relief prevalent, by contrast, among the sell-out Leeds contingent high up in the Leazes Stand.
Wood may have taken the bouquets after cancelling out Jamaal Lascelles’s 67th-minute opener, but the plaudits were shared around with Rob Green and Pontus Jansson, in particular, helping Leeds somehow stay in the game during a second-half battering.
Leeds showed the fortitude and character that all successful sides require, allied to perhaps a spot of good fortune.
Leeds may have failed to follow the lead of Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday in becoming the third White Rose side to triumph on Tyneside this season. But a point felt as good as a win in the circumstances.
Earlier, a conscientious first half had seen Leeds take the honours before a power surge from the hosts tested their attentive game plan ahead of the visitors being afforded the sanctuary of the dressing room.
Three presentable chances fell the Magpies way with Yoan Gouffrain’s cracking low drive leaving a post shuddering after Pablo Hernandez was dispossessed before Green kept out Chancel Mbemba’s point-blank header.
Ayoze Perez then hooked a close-range effort just wide as Leeds were forced to dig in, a different story to the bulk of the first period.
The Whites displayed the greater amount of polish with a wonderful early moment seeing Alfonso Pedraza show a touch of class with his 20-yard strike rebounding off the underside of the bar, Karl Darlow making a superb reaction save to claw away Roofe’s follow-up.
The Spanish winger also saw a rasping low shot flash not too far wide with Monk’s side taking to the big-game surroundings with a degree of adeptness.
After a fine Championship advert showcasing evidence as to why both sides are enjoying strong campaigns, the hosts turned the screw with the equivalent of a power drill on the restart.
Visiting goalkeeper Green made a full-stretch save to turn away Matt Ritchie’s sweet curled free-kick, with the Magpies ramping up and sustaining the pressure as Leeds toiled.
The excellent Jansson – who made a fine first-half block – then followed up to make an equally key intervention to deny Aleksander Mitrovic after the Serbian profited from Luke Ayling’s weak header – but the respite was temporary.
The goal that had been coming duly arrived when Gouffran’s cross was headed across goal by Mitrovic and Lascelles got above Kyle Bartley to head it over the line.
Despite Green managing to scoop the ball away, replays showed that the effort had crossed the line.
A defiant Green reaction save prevented Perez from doubling Newcastle’s lead with the tight scoreline just about giving Leeds an inkling of hope – an inkling which they cashed in on at the finish.
Newcastle United: Darlow; Anita, Lascelles, Mbemba, Dummett; Hayden (Colback 79), Shelvey; Ritchie (Yedlin 84, Perez (Diame 90), Gouffran; Mitrovic. Unused substitutes: Elliott, Hanley, Atsu, Murphy.
Leeds United: Green; Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Berardi (Taylor 78); Phillips, Bridcutt (Doukara 76); Roofe, Hernandez, Pedraza (Sacko 61), Wood.Unused substitutes: Peacock-Farrell, Vieira, O’Kane, Dallas.
Referee: C Kavanagh (Lancashire).