A fall to mid-table would feel a bit demoralising, especially with certain big clubs eyeing up our prized assets
Big games come in all shapes and sizes.
Two weeks ago we faced our biggest game in years at Wembley and have had the twin disappointments of the outcome there reflected in a slump in league position, brought about by a pair of defeats in two of the most difficult fixtures going, combined with a week off to contest said cup final.
All of this had seen us drop to sixth and by kick off time, there was a mere four points between United and tenth place.
While this season has been a breath of fresh air after the struggles of recent times, a fall away to mid-table would feel a bit demoralising, especially with certain big clubs eyeing up our prized assets.
To that event, a winnable home game against a relegation struggler was a welcome chance to reboot the season. Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of game in which we’ve come unstuck in recent months, with underwhelming showings against Leeds, Bournemouth and West Ham leading to dropped points. Wolverhampton had a bit of an upward trajectory as well, with welcome wins against Spurs and Liverpool and a draw at Fulham all well received in these parts. Now we needed to succeed where fellow European contenders had failed.
The revamped starting eleven was an invigorating change, as Isak was finally given a start over Wilson in a new look frontline alongside Murphy and ASM. Willock came back in for the suspended Joelinton and Schar returned at the expense of the unfortunate Lascelles despite his strong display at the Etihad.
First half suggestions were that this reboot was working.
This team was clearly geared up for pace and Wolves struggled to live with it, with ASM releasing Isak a couple of times with quick through balls that allowed the Swede to turn his marker inside out. After a promising opening with little to show for it though, the first key incident came at the other end.
Botman’s backpass to Pope offered little threat, but the keeper transferring the ball to his right foot, gave Raul Jimenez an opening to nip in and pinch it off his toes. Jimenez’ heavy touch was probably the saving grace here; I’ve looked at a few replays and can’t decide if the Wolves forward realised he wouldn’t reach the ball and deliberately initiated contact with Pope instead, or if it was just coincidental but he was never scoring. Contact was minimal and Jimenez clearly dived, but if this was given as a penalty and another Pope red card, we probably couldn’t have complained.
Like I said, I think the heavy touch taking the ball away helped influence ref Andy Madley’s decision, and the VAR didn’t see fit to overturn it. We’ll maybe take this one as payback for that blatant shirt pull on Longstaff at theirs.
Wolves might have sensed it wasn’t their day as only a few minutes later United made the breakthrough. Trippier’s free kick from deep on the right found the head of Isak and he produced a fine glancing finish inside Sa’s far post. Lovely goal, 1-0.
The moments that followed suggested that there is still a bit of a finishing issue as United dominated but couldn’t get that two goal cushion. When Trippier’s deep cross was kept in and centred by Burn, Bruno produced a trick that has been very costly this season, where our players have somehow found the woodwork with point blank headers when the target is hard to miss. Given the history of this match as a long string of 1-1s, you had to fear the longer this went on. When Wolves finally got out of their own half, Podence cracked one against the post, which didn’t help the nerves.
Half time saw a couple of tactical changes that benefited Wolves, as WWE Superstar Armand Traore was replaced by Pedro Neto, at the same time as the visitors pulled that dirty underhand trick of making Newcastle kick up the hill second half. Shouldn’t be allowed.
Neto was responsible for the first scare, as his top corner bound free kick gave us further cause to be grateful Pope was still on the pitch. His saves here and from a Moutinho strike were top drawer, which made it a bit annoying that the equaliser that finally came was a bit of a mess.
Wolves again rolled the dice of substitutions, bringing on Nunez, Ait Nouri and Hwang, and it was the last named that made an instant impact. Bursting into the box despite a bit of pully-shirty on his way, the Korean’s attempt to find Jimenez was cut out by Trippier, who then unfortunately slipped over and presented the ball back to Hwang for a tap in. Really bad luck and maybe a bit of a timely reminder that we used to let in comically daft goals as standard practice going back a year or two.
It felt like we had arrived at 1-1 and that was how this game went. But Eddie Howe had made some interventions of his own, with Wilson and Almiron entering the fray and salvation was to come in the form of the goal that has sorted us out time and time again this season: the old Miggy one-two in-behind.
Almiron cut in from the right and found Willock, who did magnificently in making this goal, drawing in no less than four defenders before threading it back to Miggy who (you know the rest) cut onto the old left foot before finishing past Sa via a deflection, before going mental with the crowd.
Wolves don’t score many and you had to feel this one was safe with ten minutes of time left. United successfully completed the old shutdown, with Botman wasting a golden chance to make things safe at the death, thrashing a clear chance off target. He’s got a goal coming soon that lad.
Relief then, that a weekend that could have sunk us further, has gone so well, with Liverpool, Fulham, Man Utd and Brentford all dropping points. Friday’s trip to the City Ground comes with a good few of that lot involved in the FA Cup, so is a golden chance to cash in one of our games in hand to positive effect. Man Utd will then have to come to St James’ Park without the suspended Casemiro, in a match that could redress the balance a bit.
It’s hugely in our hands to make this season an overachievement by nicking that Champions League place. In last season’s run in (with a very different end goal) a narrow ground-out win at home to Wolverhampton kick started a run of positive form in the spring. Here’s hoping for a repeat occurrence.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 2 Wolves 1 – Sunday 12 March 4.30pm
Isak 26, Almiron 79
Hwang Hee-Chan 70
(Half-time stats in brackets)
Possession was Wolves 58% (49%) Newcastle 42% (51%)
Total shots were Wolves 7 (2) Newcastle 19 (13)
Shots on target were Wolves 4 (1) Newcastle 8 (5)
Corners were Wolves 3 (1) Newcastle 10 (6)
Referee: Andy Madley
Attendance: 52,240 (Wolves 3,000)
Pope, Trippier, Schar, Botman, Burn, Longstaff, Bruno, Willock, Murphy (Ritchie 85), Isak (Wilson 68), Saint-Maximin (Almiron 68)
Dubravka, Dummett, Lascelles, Targett, Manquillo, Anderson
(Official Newcastle United injury update following Sunday’s 2-1 win over Wolves and ahead of Forest – Read HERE)
(United are back! Newcastle 2 Wolves 1 – Read HERE)
(Make sure you have close look again at Newcastle 2 Wolves 1 – These 2 TV replays stunned me – Read HERE)
(Julen Lopetegui blames referee for Wolves defeat at Newcastle United – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 2 Wolves 1 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 2 Wolves 1 – The instant NUFC fan / writer reaction – Read HERE)
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