Former England manager Steve McClaren was unable to mark his Premier League return with a victory as Newcastle United drew 2-2 at home to Southampton on Sunday.
But there was still much to encourage McClaren in the way his new team produced a performance that was in vivid contrast to the dismal displays that so alienated their supporters last season.
Those fans have resisted calls to stay away, with nearly 50,000 at this game, and they liked what they witnessed as Papiss Cisse and Georginio Wijnaldum scored their goals.
Players such as Cisse, Moussa Sissoko and Gabriel Obertan, who all struggled for much of last season, were much improved, while new signings Wijnaldum and Chancel Mbemba made instant impacts.
McClaren was unhappy at the way they allowed Graziano Pelle to give Southampton the lead mid-way through the first-half, but overall this was a vibrant start against a team who finished seventh last season and emerged with a point thanks to a 79th-minute goal from Shane Long.
Southampton, whose manager Ronald Koeman missed the game following surgery on his Achilles tendon, deserved their point and contributed to an entertaining game.
Wijnaldum and Cisse missed sitters in the early stages
They survived an early scare when Wijnaldum should have scored from a cross by the influential Sissoko, who also teed up Cisse, only for the Senegal striker’s touch to betray him.
By that stage, Newcastle were trailing to Pelle’s 24th-minute goal, headed in by the striker when the hosts’ central defenders failed to deal with a cross from Cedric Soares and goalkeeper Tim Krul’s touch was not sufficient to prevent the ball going inside the foot of the post.
Krul had already made one excellent save when he blocked an angled drive from Cedric and also dealt well with an effort from Dusan Tadic as Southampton displayed a willingness to drive forward in support of Pelle.
Newcastle, annoyed that two penalty appeals had been rejected by referee Craig Pawson, were again frustrated when Davis cleared a shot off the line in the 38th minute, but they were level three minutes before the interval.
It was a goal they deserved, but it involved a stroke of good fortune as Massadio Haidara’s cross flicked off the foot of Sadio Mane and looped over stranded goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg to leave Cisse with the simple task of chesting in from only two yards.
A Newcastle goal at the end of the first half was swiftly followed by one at the start of the second half, but only after Southampton thought they had gone ahead when Maya Yoshida’s close-range header was somehow kept out by the trailing leg of Krul.
Newcastle survived and, within a minute, they magnified the importance of Krul’s save when Wijnaldum made amends for his first-half miss.
This time, he climbed well to beat Stekelenburg with a splendid header from Obertan’s first-time cross.
Shane Long rescues a point for Southampton
The hosts suffered a setback when Vurnon Anita was taken off on a stretcher, while McClaren was able to give supporters their first glimpse of A?13 million ($20.1 million, 18.4 million euros) striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who replaced Cisse and was promptly booked for a foul within 10 seconds.
Another substitute, Southampton’s Long, was to make an even more eye-catching contribution, though.
He had been on the pitch for 13 minutes when he met Tadic’s cross beyond the far post and headed in the goal that deprived McClaren of a winning start to his Newcastle era.
Indeed, he was almost deprived of that point when Mane’s pace took him through the Newcastle defence in stoppage time, but the Southampton man steered his shot narrowly wide.