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LAST season, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City stumbled and lost at St James’ Park. It was a result that kick-started a run of 14 straight victories that took them to the title.
By contrast, the point they gained at the weekend seemed somewhat more damaging and for a Newcastle team struggling for consistency, the come-from-behind draw felt like a victory.
Despite the pre-season criticism and lacklustre response to his appointment, Steve Bruce is slowly beginning to mould this team the way he wants it.
They are four points better off than at the same stage of last season and while they sit in a lowly 14th position, they are just three points off sixth spot; a marginally bigger gap than the bottom three.
Against City, Bruce used the same formation that gained success against Manchester United in early October.
In defence he deployed a 5-4-1 formation and for much of the first half they sat back and soaked up pressure.
However, City required luck to score the opener. Following Isaac Hayden’s tackle on David Silva the ball richocheted between a couple of players before the Spaniard backheeled the ball into space and Raheem Sterling did the rest.
Given the league positions of the teams it seemed inevitable, but it was, in fact, harsh on Newcastle.
Although they didn’t see much of the ball, having just 23 per cent possession, the Magpies consistently posed City problems.
They switched to a 4-3-3 in attack, using direct balls and quick passes to bypass City’s midfield and the pace of Joelinton, Miguel Almiron and the entertaining Allan Saint-Maximin to put pressure on the visitors’ defence.
The latter two regularly swapped flanks meaning City could never truly relax and it took just three minutes for Almiron to provide the assist for Jetro Willems, marauding down the left, to equalise.
The second-half provided more of the same, with City marginally on top but failing to translate their possession into goals.
It took a world-class strike from Kevin De Bruyne, volleying home from outside the area, to break the deadlock a second time.
It looked like the game was done and dusted, but six minutes later Newcastle were back on terms thanks to a world-class strike of their own from Jonjo Shelvey.
Shelvey is a frustrating player. At his imperious best he can be one of the best passers of the ball in the league.
In another universe he must surely be the quarterback of Gareth Southgate’s England team, pulling the strings from deep, spraying inch-perfect passes all over the pitch.
In our universe he is a temperamental, inconsistent player who is unlikely to ever fulfil his real potential. Bruce needs to get Shelvey performing consistently at his peak if he wants to get the best from his team.
City had the chances to claim all three points — Gabriel Jesus, Silva and Raheem Sterling all had gilt-edged opportunities but Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka was a solid last line of defence.
It showed a Newcastle team playing together at, or near, their best.
As with all recent Newcastle managers, Bruce is working on a budget and with the players he’s given.
Now the challenge is for Newcastle to translate performances like this into a consistent run of form.
“We go up and down a little too quickly for my liking,” Bruce acknowledged after the game. “That’s one thing we need to address, especially away from home.”
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