Alexander Isak double keeps Newcastle's hopes of top-four finish alive
It may have taken some time for him to fully spark into life, but Alexander Isak is finally proving that he can carry the weight of that record £60 million fee.
Isak was always going to be under scrutiny as the most expensive buy for Newcastle, with all their new wealth, and though it has been a slow-burner this was another performance of high promise.
The Swede’s two goals have given Newcastle’s pursuit of the Champions League another huge boost, with his coolly taken penalty three minutes into added time clear evidence of a player thriving under the pressure.
It was Newcastle’s first away win of the year and keeps them in contention for the top-four, while finally snapping Nottingham Forest’s long unbeaten run at the City Ground.
Isak has struggled with injury since his arrival from Real Sociedad in August, but now he is fully fit Newcastle are reaping the rewards.
While Newcastle left it very late, with the penalty awarded after a handball by Forest defender Moussa Niakhate, there was little disputing that they deserved it.
The visitors created countless chances, striking the woodwork twice while also suffering a controversial Var call, before the late twist in the contest.
Newcastle are a point behind Tottenham in fifth place, with a game in hand. The only disappointment from an uplifting evening was the news that Miguel Almiron will miss the next six weeks after sustaining a thigh injury in training.
Eddie Howe, the Newcastle manager, said: “Confidence is key for any attacking player and Alexander’s penalty was ice-cool, it’s not easy to do that after the delay.
“He’s building up nicely towards having a huge impact for us. Both his goals were very well taken and he was a constant threat all night.
“Back-to-back wins are so difficult to achieve in the Premier League and this feels like a big moment in our season.”
Forest have built their survival hopes on the foundations of an impressive home record and this was their first defeat in ten league matches, stretching back to mid-September.
With their away form so poor since promotion, there is now added pressure on Cooper’s players to pick up points in front of their own supporters.
Many times this season they have ridden their luck at home, and they came so close here to another heroic result.
Evangelos Marinakis, the Forest owner, was understood to be “furious” with the performance of referee Paul Tierney, who did not punish a foul on Andre Ayew by Joe Willock seconds before Isak’s equaliser.
Steve Cooper, Forest’s head coach, said: “We were still going to be in a battle whatever happened here and we will do everything to stay above that relegation line.
“We’re all desperately disappointed but we’re all together and will keep fighting.
“We go into an international break now and that makes it doubly worse. Nothing can be solved tonight.”
Newcastle were dominant from the start, in the first of what was four away games in five.
Forest almost gifted them the opening goal after Isak found space in the penalty area and his scuffed shot took a huge deflection off Renan Lodi before bouncing back off the crossbar.
It was a huge reprieve for Forest, and then, out of nowhere, they scored in the 26th minute.
Newcastle centre-back Sven Botman’s poor backpass was intended for Nick Pope, but Emmanuel Dennis was alert and intercepted before chipping the ball around the goalkeeper and over the head of Kieran Trippier.
The equaliser finally arrived in first-half stoppage time, with Isak displaying great technique to volley into the corner.
Elliot Anderson was proving a shrewd second-half substitution and was denied his first Newcastle goal in controversial circumstances.
Forest failed to adequately clear and Isak’s cross to the back post was nodded home by the 20 year old, but disallowed after a lengthy delay.
Tierney reviewed the incident on his TV monitor and concluded that Longstaff had been in an offside position shortly before Isak’s cross.
It was a confusing call, as two Forest players did appear to have played the ball before Longstaff became active.
Forest were clearly lifted, and just when it appeared they would cling on, the moment came two minutes into added time.
Under pressure from Isak, Niakhate handled Willock’s cross in the area and Tierney immediately pointed to the spot. Isak made no mistake and is turning Newcastle’s season around.