A HEADER from substitute Matthew Grieve was enough to give Newcastle United’s reserves victory over Manchester City in a scrappy game at Darsley Park.
Grieve nodded the ball over the line from close range with 19 minutes left to play after Leon Best had marked his comeback game for the second string with a powerful goalbound header from Samuel Ameobi’s corner.
Best went on to play the full 90 minutes and looked reasonably sharp, despite not playing a competitive game of football since the win over Queens Park Rangers on the final day of last season, back in May.
The Republic of Ireland international picked up an ankle injury in pre-season and has struggled to get back to fitness with Newcastle beginning life back in the top flight in encouraging style.
Best’s performance was certainly far livelier than that of strike partner Xisco, who is also returning from an injury, and it seems the £5.6m signing from Deportivo La Coruna is quite happy to wile away his time on Tyneside in the reserves rather than push for a first-team place.
The other good news for manager Chris Hughton was an impressive run-out from Sol Campbell in the centre of defence before he was replaced by Grieve on the hour mark, while Steven Taylor also stepped up his rehabilitation following a dislocated shoulder, lasting the full 90 minutes without any apparent discomfort.
The Magpies were the better side for the majority of the first half and should have opened the scoring before the break, only for some poor finishing and poor final balls to let them down.
Michael Richardson was the first to be denied when he controlled Best’s cross well, but found City goalkeeper David Gonzalez had rushed quickly off his line to smother the danger.
Best went close with an angled drive before firing another shot across the face of goal with Gonzalez beaten, but the worst miss of the half came from Taylor who, completely unmarked at the far post, somehow managed to head Ameobi’s corner over the bar from inside the six-yard box.
City were much improved after the interval and Ole Soderberg had to make a couple of sharp saves to keep United in it, John Guidetti and Andrew Tutte all finding the Swede too difficult to beat with low shots.
Xisco might have given Newcastle the lead moments later when he blasted over the bar after taking down Richardson’s right-wing cross, but the home side did eventually break the deadlock through Grieves, who will argue he had to turn Best’s header over the line as there was a defender behind him.
City continued to do most of the pressing in the closing stages, but Tom Smith’s long-range effort flew wide of the far post with Soderberg beaten and Guidetti wasted the visitors’ last real chance when he blazed over the bar from inside the area.
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-2): Soderberg; Tavernier, Taylor, Campbell (Grieves 60), Folan; Richardson, Donaldson, Newton, Ameobi; Best, Xisco (Airey 73). Subs (not used): Robinson, Leadbitter, Adjei.