Miguel Almiron’s goal 11 minutes from time boosted Newcastle’s Champions League hopes as the Magpies got back to winning ways via a 2-1 win over Wolves.
Going into this game, nine out of the last 15 meetings between these two teams had ended in a 1-1 draw and it looked to be heading in that direction once more after Wolves substitute Hee-Chan Hwang cancelled out Alexander Isak’s first-half opener with 20 minutes to go.
But, with Wolves hanging on for a point, substitute Almiron – dropped by Eddie Howe alongside Callum Wilson – played a slick one-two with Joe Willock before his shot deflected its way past Jose Sa.
There was VAR controversy before that, however, as Nick Pope was reprieved of a potential penalty and red card after a collision with Raul Jimenez in the first half.
Referee Andy Madley and VAR Tony Harrington opted not to send Pope off and give a spot-kick, with the Newcastle goalkeeper making several key saves to keep out the visitors during the rest of the game.
Newcastle: Pope (7); Trippier (8), Schar (6), Botman (6), Burn (7); Guimaraes (7), Longstaff (6), Willock (7); Murphy (6), Isak (9), Saint-Maximin (7)
Subs: Almiron (8), Wilson (6), Ritchie (n/a)
Wolves: Sa (7); Semedo (6), Dawson (7), Kilman (6), Jonny (5); Neves (6), Lemina (6), Moutinho (6); A.Traore (5), Jimenez (6), Podence (6)
Subs: Neto (7), Hwang (7), Ait-Nouri (6), Nunes (6), Collins (5)
Player of the match: Alexander Isak
“For me it is a very clear penalty for us,” said Wolves manager Julen Lopetegui to Sky Sports after the game about the Pope incident.
“We are very unlucky with the referees. We were very unlucky in [the FA Cup match at] Liverpool and today too. It is a pity for us.”
Newcastle manager Eddie Howe had a different view. “I didn’t think it was a penalty,” he said. “You might say I’m biased but I don’t think it was.
“I think Jimenez was going down as the contact was made. That was my assessment of it.”
How the subs took over at St James’
- Newcastle made four changes from the team that lost at Manchester City last week. Miguel Almiron and Callum Wilson were benched for Jacob Murphy and Alexander Isak, while the suspended Joelinton was replaced by Joe Willock. Anthony Gordon is out for up to three weeks with an ankle injury so Allan Saint Maximin started,
- Wolves also made four changes from the side that beat Spurs 1-0. Adama Traore, Raul Jimenez, Daniel Podence and Joao Moutinho replaced Pablo Sarabia, Diego Costa, Matheus Nunes and Pedro Neto.
Both sides had struggled for goals going into this game but they started confidently, despite creating no clear-cut chances in a frantic opening 20 minutes.
Pope punched away Joao Moutinho’s free-kick before Kieran Trippier put his own set-piece from the edge of the box straight into the Wolves wall.
Then came the moment of controversy. Pope took Dan Burn’s back pass a little too confidently, taking a heavy touch which allowed Jimenez to nip in ahead of him and stride towards goal.
As the Wolves striker looked to move past the Newcastle goalkeeper, there was a tangling of legs but referee Madley waved away the penalty claims from the visitors. VAR noted there was no clear and obvious error with the official’s decision.
Six minutes later, Newcastle edged in front – adding to Wolves’ woes. Trippier’s free-kick delivery from the wide right picked out Isak at the front post and the Swedish striker found the far corner with a superb glancing header.
Wolves, likely wounded from the alleged injustice, struggled to keep up with the high-flying Magpies. Willock prodded wide just seconds after Isak’s opener, before Bruno Guimaraes struck the crossbar from close range after Burn pulled back Trippier’s deep corner.
Almost in the next attack, Wolves hit the woodwork themselves, with Daniel Podence cutting inside from the left and striking Pope’s near post with a rasping drive.
Wolves were much improved after the break, with Ruben Neves firing over from distance – before half-time substitute Pedro Neto stung Pope’s palms with a fizzing shot from a free-kick.
Trippier saw another free-kick kept out by Jose Sa, while Neves blazed over from inside the area when the ball sat up nicely for him at the other end.
Wolves manager Lopetegui then made a triple change, which included the introduction of Hwang and 57 seconds later, he found the net.
The South Korean forward burst through into the Newcastle box and while Trippier looked to clear from the feet of Jimenez, the right-back slipped over with Pope also looking for the ball. Hwang had the simple task of tapping home into an empty net.
But Almiron – who came on shortly after Hwang – would have the last laugh as his quick interchange with Willock saw him enter the right-hand side of the box with a clear sight of goal. As soon as the strike left his boot, there were none in St James’ Park who did not expect the net to bulge.
There could have been a third late in the game as Sven Botman blazed over from close range after Almiron’s mazy run. But a third goal was not necessary as Newcastle returned to winning ways after three successive 2-0 defeats.
Redknapp: VAR made big mistake in Pope incident
Sky Sports’ Jamie Redknapp:
“Have Newcastle got away with one? Absolutely. Pope is incredibly lucky.
“I cannot believe they’ve not sent Andy Madley to the monitor. Pope takes him out with his right shoulder – he bodychecks him.
“It’s no doubt it’s a foul. And because he’s not trying to play the ball it would be a penalty, a red card and a ban for him. That’s how important this decision was.
“That’s such an important moment in this game that needs a bit of time at the VAR monitor. What a big mistake.”
Lopetegui: Wolves unlucky with the referees
Lopetegui rued more rotten luck with VAR calls as Wolves manager, referencing the disallowed goal that Wolves should have scored to win their FA Cup third-round match against Liverpool back in January.
“It’s not a matter of what I think. It’s true, we have suffered a big mistake a lot of matches ago in Liverpool and today, for me, it was a penalty,” he said. “But the VAR can’t help the referee in this case and I can’t say anything more.
“We were unlucky with the decision. We didn’t have any penalty since I arrived here.
“But we have to keep working, I don’t want to put the focus on only the referee. Because we have things to work on in our team and for me too. I’m not happy with how we ended the match.”
The result leaves Wolves just three points above the Premier League relegation zone, but four teams – Nottingham Forest, Everton, Leicester and West Ham – all separate Lopetegui’s side in 13th and Bournemouth in the closest relegation spot to them.
“We lost against a very good team but in the second half we deserved more,” said Lopetegui.
“The relegation fight will be until the last match. We will fight with a lot of good teams and we have to be ready. But we have to focus on the next one and carry on fighting to improve the wrong things.”
Howe: It was a real test of character | Gordon out for up to three weeks
Newcastle returned to winning ways and now a top-four finish is back in their hands after a weekend which saw them win and Liverpool lose to Howe’s former club Bournemouth.
The Magpies boss praised the character of his squad to respond quickly to the Wolves equaliser and find a winner through Almiron.
“Our first-half performance was very, very good. Alex [Isak] scored a massive goal for us. Second half, a one-goal lead is always delicate and it should have been more at half-time,” he told Sky Sports.
“Wolves, to be fair, came back into the game, we know they have very good players. But the character to get that winning goal is a good feeling for us.
“At 1-1 the game is in the balance, with our recent run that was a real test of character for us. But we had to regroup and we found another level.”
In his post-match press conference, Howe confirmed that Anthony Gordon is set to be out for three weeks after picking up an ankle injury.
Gordon was due to start against Wolves but had a scan on his ankle on Friday which confirmed the prognosis.
Opta stats: Wolves’ away form in relegation-worthy
- Miguel Almiron scored his 11th Premier League goal of the season – more than in his previous four seasons combined for Newcastle. Meanwhile, four of his strikes this term have been the winning goal, which is the most of any Magpies player this season.
- Wolves have won just two away matches in the Premier League this season, which is their lowest such tally after 14 away games played since 2011-12, when they were relegated from the top-flight (also 2).
- In the 16 Premier League meetings between Newcastle and Wolves, both sides have scored in 15 (94%) – this is the highest such ratio of any fixture to be played 5+ times in the competition’s history.
- Hwang Hee-Chan scored Wolves’ equaliser just 57 seconds after being subbed on, which is the second fastest such goal to be scored in the Premier League this season – after Douglas Luiz v Arsenal in August (54 seconds after coming on).
Newcastle have a five-day wait for their next game: a Friday Night Football match away at Nottingham Forest, live on Sky Sports with kick-off at 8pm.
Four out of Wolves‘ next five games are against the teams around them, starting with a home match against Leeds on Saturday, kick-off 3pm.