Nigel Adkins has been at pains to remind that pre-season is all part of a process with Newcastle, boasting over £30m worth of talent in their starting eleven, handpicked to pose his players a very different type of test.
Sheffield United’s defensive and organisational qualities off the ball, their manager surmised, would be scrutinised by the likes of Senegalese international Papiss Cisse and France’s Mousa Sissoka. Not, with all due respect to Ilkeston, Cheltenham Town and Exeter City, their attacking prowess.
However, as United defender turned coach Chris Morgan acknowledged after a contest which also marked his testimonial, for once the manager made a slight miscalculation.
“From what we’ve seen so far, it bodes well,” Morgan, who made a cameo appearance during the closing stages, said.
“The lads gave as good as they got going forward against a really strong Newcastle team.
“You can see the little bits of play, little things that they’re working on during training, coming to fruition.
“And that’s good to see.”
Once again, there signs that United could be set to enjoy a profitable League One campaign.
Che Adams, who attracted admiring glances from St James’ Park before moving to South Yorkshire, looks a more physical and polished performer than the one which captured Bramall Lane’s imagination last term. Indeed, the teenager was involved in the move which saw Marc McNulty level the scores after Georgino Wijnaldum’s opener.
Jamie Murphy was also a constant thorn in Newcastle’s side, making a series of his trademark, incisive runs before being withdrawn after an hour, while the sight of Matt Done returning from injury provided yet another boost.
Likewise Kieron Freeman’s late equaliser after Siem De Jong, the Newcastle substitute, had threatened to spoil Morgan’s party.
“I’m truly honoured to have represented this fine football club,” Morgan said.
“After finishing as a player, I was lucky enough to be granted the chance to coach.
“In the 12 years I’ve been here, I’ve been privileged to work with some fine managers and people.
“Truly, I’m honoured and humbled at what has gone on.”
Adkins’ suspicions about how this match, the fourth of United’s summer schedule, would unfold intially proved correct although, despite a series of early scares, his team also tested the visitors’ resolve.
Martyn Woolford and Cisse exchanged early chances with the latter seeing a curling effort rebound back off George Long’s post.
United’s defending, given the quality of the opposition, was inevitably stretched at times with Callum McFadzean, Neill Collins and Jay McEveley all making vital interceptions.
However, once their heads cleared, the hosts set about turning the tables. Adams, demonstrating he possesses a subtle touch as well as searing pace, combined well with Murphy midway through the opening period to create an opening for Chris Basham but the resulting shot was blocked. Soon after, McNulty pierced Newcast le’s backline with an angled pass to release Adams although, once again, the chance was snuffed out.
Not so when Adams appeared to have deceived Tim Krul with the flight of the ball only for the goalkeeper to adjust his weight and claw another fierce shot away to safety.
With five minutes of the half remaining, and against the run of play, Newcastle took the lead in ruthless fashion when Wijnaldum, their Dutch midfielder, converted on the rebound following a Long save.
With Billy Sharp watching from the stands, less than 24 hours after completing his transfer from Leeds, McNulty’s next contribution was especially significant.
The centre-forward, later replaced by Sharp’s fellow new arrival Conor Sammon, produced a composed finish after being sent clear by Adams, caressing a low shot beyond the advancing Krul and serving notice that he does not plan to be easily dislodged at one fell swoop.
Done was a Steven Taylor interception away from giving United a 61st minute lead, only moments after entering the fray, before substitute De Jong restored Newcastle’s advantage with 10 minutes remaining following Cisse’s touch. True to form, though, United struck back with Freeman powering a superb long-range effort into the back of Krul’s net in the 86th minute.
“I want to thank everyone from Newcastle as well,” Morgan said.
“Just like those wearing red and white, those wearing black and white are true football supporters.”
sheffield united: Long, Freeman, Collins (Morgan 87), McEveley (K Wallace 86), McFadzean, Woolford (Campbell-Ryce 46), Basham (J Wallace 75), Baxter (Reed 69), Murphy (Scougall 59), McNulty (Sammon 59), Adams (Done 60).
newcastle united: Krul, Janmaat, Haidara, Taylor (Lascelles 69), Williamson, Wijnaldum (De Jong 73), Sissoka (Abeid 80), Perez (Aarons 46), Colback, Anita (Obertan 61), Cisse (Armstrong 80). Not used: Gouffran, Darlow, Satka.
REFEREE: Andrew Madley