Alexander Isak penalty secures point for Newcastle against Bournemouth

Alexander Isak’s penalty cancelled out Philip Billing’s opener as Newcastle and Bournemouth drew 1-1 at St James’ Park

Five points from three games is the sort of tally which, in the right context, can help caretaker coaches land more permanent managerial postings.

Throw in three very decent unbeaten performances since Gary O’Neil took interim charge of Bournemouth after Scott Parker’s sacking and it is easy to imagine the Las Vegas-based consortium in talks to buy the club from Maxim Demin wondering whether to stick rather than twist.

Granted, Bournemouth spent an awful lot of time without the ball on Tyneside, but their positioning out of possession was so good that Eddie Howe endured a disappointing afternoon against the team he was once synonymous with.

With Philip Billing, Jordan Zemura, Marcus Tavernier, Chris Mepham and Neto all particularly impressive for a defensively solid Bournemouth, O’Neil looked appreciably the happier manager as a smattering of boos greeted the final whistle.

“I’m relatively pleased,” said O’Neil. “The players did exactly what we asked. We defended really well, managed to play through Newcastle at times and never really felt under threat.”

And the takeover? “All the players are interested in is the prospect of a free trip to Las Vegas at the end of the season,” he quipped.

Howe was in less jocular mood. “I’m disappointed, that was a performance below the levels we’ve set ourselves,” said a manager who led Bournemouth to three promotions in six years. “They defended very deep and compact and we couldn’t break through. There’s a big sense of frustration. We weren’t quite there today.”

Despite considerable pressure from Newcastle, who have won only one league game this season, the first real chance fell to Bournemouth.

With Nick Pope caught in hazardous no man’s land, slightly off his line yet unable to reach Zemura’s cross, Tavernier directed a looping header narrowly wide. The former Middlesbrough winger’s bright counterattacking play would be a recurring theme of a match in which, courtesy of much assiduous defending, O’Neil’s side frustrated Newcastle and their supporters in equal measure.

If, at first glance, Bournemouth’s penchant for playing out from the back seemed as if it might create plenty of openings for their high-pressing hosts, they had been organised so intelligently that home attacking manoeuvres were consistently second-guessed. Nominally a No 10, Billing frequently interrupted potentially menacing Newcastle moves at source.

Bruno Guimarães is a fine midfielder but for once the Brazilian’s passes rarely bisected the visiting backline. Similarly Alexander Isak, Howe’s rather isolated new £60m Swedish striker, found his touches strictly rationed.

Philip Billing volleys in Bournemouth’s opener
Philip Billing volleys in Bournemouth’s opener, but they only held the lead for a matter of minutes. Photograph: Bruce White/Colorsport/Shutterstock

Indeed, bar looking mighty relieved when Kieran Trippier’s curving free kick brushed the outside of a post, Neto was surprisingly underworked until near the end of the first half when, immediately after seeing Joelinton’s effort rebound off the inside of an upright, he produced a stellar double save.

No sooner had the goalkeeper diverted Joelinton’s low follow-up shot than he dived acrobatically to deny the former Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser from the rebound.

Admittedly, by the interval Dominic Solanke, Bournemouth’s key striker, had barely touched the ball. But this was always destined to be a day when his impressively indomitable colleagues in central defence, Mepham and the improving Marcos Senesi, were going to enjoy the lion’s share of the action.

Although that duo played a big part in subduing Isak they were doubtless relieved that injury had sidelined Howe’s two most improvisational, incisive and least containable forwards, Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson.

There was no containing Billing, though, when he extended every sinew to meet Zemura’s cross before volleying it beyond Pope at the end of a wonderfully fluent Bournemouth attack originally inspired by Tavernier.

Newcastle’s equaliser arrived soon afterwards. It came from the penalty spot, where Isak’s assuredly accomplished kick evaded Neto after a VAR review confirmed that Jefferson Lerma’s hand had diverted Trippier’s cross.

The hosts subsequently stretched Bournemouth to the limit but O’Neil’s players refused to snap. Those Las Vegas money men could arguably do a lot worse than the caretaker responsible for seamlessly repairing the damage inflicted by the 9-0 thrashing at Liverpool which prefaced Parker’s exit.

“Bournemouth did very well tactically, they didn’t leave us many spaces,” said Howe. “Gary deserves a lot of credit.”


Louise Taylor at St James' Park

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