Throwback Thursday: Newcastle v Liverpool (August 21st, 1971)

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Any Newcastle fan, or indeed any fan of English football, will tell you that the Magpies are hard to watch these days. Not just because their football is so grim (although, let’s not kid ourselves, their play is very dismal indeed). No, it’s because their recent fortunes stand in such sharp contrast to their history. They’ve never had the same extended periods of dominance that, say, Manchester United or Liverpool or Leeds can boast. But they have titles and silverware to their name, and a veritable pantheon of heroes that filled that stands of St. James’ Park with pride.

One of those legends was a hulking #9 known as “Supermac.” This week, we look back at Malcolm Macdonald’s first home game with Newcastle— August 21st, 1971.

Macdonald was signed over the summer from Luton Town for £180,000, a club record at the time. Given that he scored 49 goals in 88 appearances for Luton over two seasons, Newcastle probably thought it was a bargain.

The Magpies played their first two league fixtures of 1971-72 away from home, a 2-0 loss at Crystal Palace and a 0-0 draw at Tottenham. That meant Newcastle were going into their first home game with one point from six, having failed to score a goal, and with Bill Shankly’s Liverpool paying a visit. Needless to say, the pressure was mounting.

The nerves amongst the supporters were surely set further on edge when Emlyn Hughes opened the scoring in the 11th minute with a spectacular strike outside the box. But the home fans’ patience would soon be rewarded. Newcastle were awarded a penalty, which was duly converted by Macdonald for his first tally with the club. The first half ended with chaos; Liverpool won a penalty, but Kevin Keegan’s shot was saved by Willie McFaul, whose free kick won after being fouled in the scramble to recover started a rapid-fire chain of events that ended with Macdonald netting his second goal with the last major action of the first half.

After some back-and-forth in the second half, Newcastle managed to pour forward on a counterattack and played Macdonald through on goal. Supermac managed to get a shot off under pressure and sent it past Ray Clemence to complete the hat trick. St. James’ Park exploded; no one on the stands (or, frankly, in the black and white shirts on the pitch) could believe their luck. The home side did concede one more goal— with Kevin Keegan pulling one back late from a corner kick— but managed to hang on for the result. (They did have a few scary minutes when Macdonald collided with Clemence and had to leave the game with concussion symptoms.) Newcastle secured a 3-2 win against Shankly’s Liverpool, their first batch of three points for the season.

Macdonald went on to score 30 goals in 52 appearances that season. Not a bad return, all things considered. Despite that haul, Newcastle ended up finishing the league campaign in 11th place. That was also the season they suffered their historically humiliating loss to Hereford United in the FA Cup. Liverpool, for their part, fought a four-way battle for the title and ended up losing by a point to Derby County under, you guessed it, Brian Clough.

Will Newcastle be able to dig deep and fend off a rampant Liverpool? Find you this Sunday when the Reds travel to St. James’ Park. Kickoff is scheduled for 11am EST on NBC Sports Network.

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