By Giuseppe Muro at St. James’ Park
The Reserves suffered defeat in the cruellest of fashions as they went down 2-1 to an injury-time header against Newcastle on Wednesday.
After going behind to a Greg McDermott’s strike midway through the first half, the second string thought they had earned a point when Josh Rees met Thomas Cruise’s cross to bundle the ball home at the back post early in the second period.
Arsenal proceeded to pepper the Newcastle goal in search of a winner. But, thanks to a mixture of goalkeeper Tim Krul, some misfortune and wayward finishing, a draw seemed the likely outcome.
They deserved more than that, but Philip Airey’s header in virtually the last move of the match inflicted an unjust defeat on Neil Banfield’s side.
Shefki Kuqi, a recent acquisition for Newcastle boss Alan Pardew, was making his first start in a black and white shirt and proved to be a handful early on.
He conjured the first chance out of very little when he forced Sean McDermott, making his debut at this level, into a smart save low to his right.
Arsenal’s response? Rhys Murphy tested Krul after latching onto Chuks Aneke’s pin-point through ball.
Kuqi was a willing runner into both channels before Conor Henderson’s cheeky nutmeg quietened down the Finnish international.
That was until the 16th minute, when Newcastle were awarded a penalty after Daniel Boateng was adjudged to have bundled over Kuqi as the pair went up inside the area. If ever there was harsh spot-kick, this was it.
The Newcastle frontman stepped up himself, but justice was done when McDermott read his casual stroll down the middle to save easily.
Arsenal then had McDermott to thank for keeping the Magpies at bay just four minutes later.
Airey’s low fizzer looked destined for the bottom-left corner before the goalkeeper somehow got down to make a superb one-handed save and tip the ball behind.
Arsenal were under pressure, and that pressure resulted in the opening goal after 23 minutes when Greg McDermott prodded home 12 yards out.
Murphy came close to cancelling out that advantage on the half-hour mark when he latched onto Rees’ flick before firing at the legs of Krul from an angle.
Krul’s legs came to Newcastle’s rescue again moments later when Ignasi Miquel, returning to the side after his exploits with the senior team, conjured up a breathtaking piece of skill before volleying straight at the keeper.
Newcastle took their slender lead into the break.
But that advantage was cancelled out just eight minutes into the second half when Rees scored his first goal at Reserve level.
The 17-year-old ghosted in unnoticed at the back post to divert Cruise’s teasing centre into the net from close range.
Arsenal had come racing out of the traps and came agonisingly close to going ahead when Luke Freeman’s sliced effort missed the far post.
Aneke then curled an effort into the arms of Krul as Arsenal started to turn the screw.
If there was going to be a winner, it was surely going to be the boys in red.
Rees went close to bagging his second and Murphy’s first-time shot forced the Newcastle stopper to acrobatically tip over the bar.
Freeman, always stretching, poked wide from close range. It just wasn’t to be.
And there was to be a bitter twist in the tale when Airey headed home deep into two minutes of stoppage time.
It was so cruel on Arsenal.
- Cruise 65
- Rees 83 Goal!
- Aneke 83
- Ebecilio 83
- Ansah 83
- Brislen-Hall 65
- McDermott 46 Goal!
- Airey Goal!
- Inman 46