Newcastle fell to a chastising defeat on Wednesday night in a result that does much to undermine the quiet confidence accumulated over the past two games.
Leeds buzzed in between Newcastle’s lines all night and fashioned numerous chances, although it was only in the second half that they really began to convert them into goalscoring opportunities.
Leeds certainly deserved the victory, but the nature of Newcastle’s contest (or lack thereof) and the continued reluctance to at least try and play on the front foot made it a sight for sore Geordie eyes.
Remarkably, it was Newcastle who had the best of the opening exchanges and for a brief moment it appeared that this would be another game in which Leeds’ frailties at the back would be exploited as Jeff Hendrick popped up unmarked at the back-post to knock in the first goal.
However, Leeds continued creating and Darlow was forced into a smart saved from Liam Cooper from a corner. The pressure continued and Leeds deservedly equalised after Patrick Bamford followed in a rebound on 35 minutes.
Newcastle were floundering, with Jamal Lewis and Sean Longstaff looking particularly shaky in possession. As a result, the fabled Bielsa press found itself on furlough as Leeds were fed chance after chance to swarm on the Newcastle goal. The excellent Rodrigo and substitute Pablo Hernandez were the most grateful recipients of this festive generosity.
And yet, it should be a striking hallmark of Steve Bruce’s reign that the 5-2 defeat that followed might be considered somewhat flattering to an opponent that displayed almost complete superiority throughout. Because after shithousing so many results from tactically and technically superior outfits in the past, it somehow felt that Newcastle could once again get away with something, as if they deserved something more.
But there was to be no stat-defying escape this time around. Leeds re-calibrated their shooting boots and punished them in style with Rodrigo arrowing a header in off the far post following Harrison’s acrobatics to keep the ball in play.
Newcastle would respond at a set piece as the grossly underrated Ciaran Clark powered in from a corner. But the tide had set, the familiar anonymity of Jeff Hendrick, the doziness of the appalling Sean Longstaff combined with the lack of ideas going forwards left Newcastle rudderless in a storm.
Despite witnessing both Roy Hodgson and David Moyes achieve wins over Bielsa (a world manager of the year nominee), it is still no disgrace to be outplayed by his team.
But the routineness of being set up to be outplayed by almost any team Newcastle face is a damning indictment of the eighteen months Steve Bruce has spent at the helm. Tuesday night’s quarter final against Brentford (after squeezing past Newport County on penalties) is now a genuinely frightening prospect.
Newcastle must now recover and reset ready for their must win home game against Fulham on Saturday.