As Rafael Benítez and Carlos Carvalhal shook hands at the end, neither man could quite disguise their disappointment.
A hard-fought point is all very well but Carvalhal’s Swansea City stay bottom. As for Newcastle, they remain far too close to the relegation zone for comfort, have gone seven home Premier League games without a win and are far from ruthless in front of goal. Benítez is doing a fine job in testing circumstances but Mike Ashley’s transfer window parsimony threatens to undo much good work.
By way of exacerbating Geordie misery, there were apparent tensions between Benítez and Jonjo Shelvey, with the clearly annoyed midfielder pushing his manger’s outstretched hand away when he was substituted. Even so, things could have been worse for Newcastle fans, with Mohamed Diamé fortunate to escape both conceding a first-half penalty and collecting a red card following an apparently deliberate handball.
“I don’t know if we’ve achieved one point or lost two, there was a feeling we should have won,” said Carvalhal, whose smart decision to shift Nathan Dyer to a wider, deeper midfield role in the second half left Swansea less vulnerable to home counterattacks.
During the opening half Newcastle spurned several decent chances, while the profligate Dwight Gayle rightly had a headed goal disallowed for offside following a corner. Ayoze Pérez unnerved Kyle Bartley before crossing for Gayle to head wide, Lukasz Fabianski parried Pérez’s shot following Matt Ritchie’s clever, lobbed pass and Shelvey lifted a free-kick just over the bar. Then there was the moment when Christian Atsu crossed low for Paul Dummett but the left-back got the ball stuck beneath his feet at the wrong moment and sent the ball ballooning towards the Leazes End.
Bar an odd stellar pass from Shelvey – up against his former employers – and Swansea’s Sam Clucas, the watching Gareth Southgate did not have too much to get excited about. Perhaps tellingly, a key sub-plot centred on Bartley’s duel with Pérez, which, considering the centre-half was on a yellow card following a tug on Gayle, guaranteed him a few panicky cameos.
Newcastle’s biggest fright featured Swansea’s penalty appeal in the wake of Diamé’s handball as he endeavoured to redirect Mike van der Hoorn’s goal bound header, with the Senegal midfielder fortunate to get the benefit of the doubt from the referee.
Ironically Diamé, deployed deep in midfield alongside Shelvey, enjoyed one of his better games in a Newcastle shirt. “I must admit I didn’t see it at first,” said Carvalhal of the penalty shout. “But it’s the job of the referee to see it. I like him [Graham Scott] he’s a good referee but he made a mistake. If we’d had video technology to help him we would have had a penalty and red card within 10 seconds.”
The Portuguese’s smile returned when Jordan Ayew headed Swansea in front. That goal began with an excellent right wing cross from Van der Hoorn and featured Karl Darlow making a fine one-handed save from Ayew’s initial header. Fortune, though, did not frown on Newcastle’s keeper, who parried the ball straight back towards Ayew and, within a millisecond, that rebound nestled in the back of the net.
Joselu is often less than incisive but, having replaced Gayle, the Spanish striker momentarily turned fox in the box. When Pérez’s shot was deflected, a twisting, turning Joselu nutmegged Alfie Mawson before defying Fabianski from a tight angle.
If Joselu could not hide his joy, Shelvey’s petulant reaction to being withdrawn did not impress. Having batted Benítez away he indulged in a bout of head-shaking. Earlier there had been similar dissent when he was passed evidently unwelcome managerial instructions over the execution of a free-kick.
“There are some things we have to correct,” said a shrugging Benítez, who was relieved to see DeAndre Yedlin clear Wilfried Bony’s late shot off the line. “But any player will be unhappy when he’s substituted.”