Full-time: Newcastle United 0 Manchester City 2
IF Newcastle United supporters wanted to leave St James’ Park with optimism after facing reigning champions Manchester City on the opening weekend of the season then Alan Pardew's new-look team obliged with a positive performance.
While there will have been hopes on Tyneside for a home win which would have seen a title holder suffer a first day defeat for the first time in Premier League history, few would really have expected it.
And after goals from David Silva, seven minutes before half-time, and Sergio Aguero, deep into stoppage-time at the end of the game, a loss to Manchester City was exactly what arrived. With the hardest fixture out of the way first, there were signs of promise on the pitch.
Now Newcastle must build, rather than dwell, on a defeat which was by no means as disgraceful and disruptive as the 4-0 opening weekend reversal to Manchester City 12 months ago.
Now, before Tottenham and Liverpool arrive on the schedule in late October, Newcastle have a run of seven games in which they should have every chance of winning, starting with a trip to Aston Villa this Saturday.
If Alan Pardew, the manager, ensures a repeat of this display from a squad boasting nine new signings then the foundations are there for a bright season. Newcastle defended strongly, full of running across the pitch and attacked with intent. The only concern moving forward this week will be scoring goals.
There were a few chances, with Yoann Gouffran, Moussa Sissoko and Ayoze Perez all unfortunate not to score before Augero eventually broke to nick a crucial second for Manuel Pellegrini’s side in the dying seconds.
But in truth Joe Hart, City’s England goalkeeper, only had one save to make throughout the afternoon and the hope will be that the likes of Remy Cabella and Emmanuel Riviere can test lesser goalkeepers in the coming weeks.
Newcastle might have been unable to improve on a record, dating back to last season, which means they have lost 12 out of their last 16 matches dating back to February. This is a new team with fresh ideas and, provided Pardew builds on that, such a woeful run should not last for much longer.
There were teething problems initially. Given that City only fielded one summer signing in their starting ranks, there was a familiar look to the way they played and that meant they settled much quicker than Newcastle.
Before the Geordie fans had even seen Newcastle make decent head way towards the visitors’ penalty box, goalkeeper Tim Krul had two solid stops to make in front of the Gallowgate.
The first was when Stevan Jovetic, facing an important couple of weeks after an indifferent first season following his move from Fiorentina 12 months ago, sent Dzeko through with a lovely chip over the defence. Krul sensed danger and ran out to thwart the Bosnian’s volley. Newcastle’s Dutch goalkeeper also had to be alert to make a strong dive to his left to push Samir Nasri’s 25-yard drive away.
In fairness to Newcastle, though, their new-look side settled after that and started to make regular bursts in to the Manchester City half. Of their four debutants on show, there were positives from all of them, particularly Cabella.
While the £7m man’s trickery and quick feet led to more than one strong tackle on him, often earning a foul, he was still lively enough to suggest he could be a real threat in a Newcastle shirt. For a slight frame, he was often able to hold off the challenge and find a man.
Cabella’s mazy little dribble beyond Gael Clichy and reverse pass behind the Vincent Kompany created a fantastic opportunity for fellow new-boy Riviere. The striker, a £6m signing from Monaco, completely missed the target with a wayward left footed drive when he had time to take a touch.
That was the story of the afternoon for Riviere. The Frenchman made some clever runs and his first touch on half way to create space a few moments before that chance also took out a number of blue shirts. Rather than wait for others to catch up, however, he shot from 40 yards and he hardly connected.
Moussa Sissoko and Jack Colback, after leaving Sunderland, worked well ahead of deep-lying midfielder Vurnon Anita in the middle to join in with the forward advances. The danger, though, was that Hart was still not being tested.
But Newcastle had also appeared to find a way of thwarting the blue advances. Mike Williamson, particularly, and Fabricio Coloccini made a string of fine blocks but the pair followed the same man in the build up to the opener.
When Yaya Toure’s searching ball from inside his own half dropped in the Newcastle box, Dzeko cleverly backheeled in to the path of Silva and that took out both Williamson and Coloccini. The Spaniard’s first touch took him clear, Krul ran out and the shot was drilled inside the far post.
The timing of that goal was harsh on Newcastle and, in keeping it that way until the break, Pardew was happy to send his team out with greater intent after the restart and three excellent opportunities inside the first six minutes could have levelled things.
The best fell to Yoan Gouffran, left totally unmarked at the back post to meet a Colback corner. Gouffran chested down and then forced a near post save out of Hart, which was his first of the afternoon.
Cabella also fired over and Paul Dummett headed a Colback corner over minutes later. Newcastle had very little to deal in a defensive sense until the very last seconds when Aguero slotted in number two. In fact City’s goal led a charmed life, with Sissoko and Perez firing wide after some clever build up play.
But City broke, Aguero’s first shot to the near post was denied by Krul and then the rebound saw the Argentine curl inside the Dutchman’s far corner to ensure Newcastle’s opening weekend ended in defeat.
*Newcastle commemorated the lives of John Alder and Liam Sweeney before the game.
The two passionate Magpies fans tragically died on flight MH17 last month and both Coloccini and Vincent Kompany, the captains of the two teams, laid wreaths at the centre circle.
There was then a minute’s silence held for the pair and the match-day programme had a special front cover, with black and white shirts sporting the names Alder and Sweeney pictured below Sir Bobby Robson’s statue. There was also a standing ovation and a minute’s applause after the clock ticked beyond 17 minutes.