Newcastle leapfrog Liverpool into fifth as Almirón strikes late to beat Wolves
Julen Lopetegui did not secure previous postings in charge of Spain and Real Madrid by accident but the Wolves manager perhaps tried to be too clever for his own good on Tyneside.
A late tactical switch to a back five presumably designed to conserve an away point instead weakened Lopetegui’s team to the point where, courtesy of Miguel Almirón’s winner, Newcastle secured a first Premier League win in six games.
It lifted Eddie Howe’s side above Liverpool into fifth place, four points shy of fourth-placed Tottenham, with two games in hand. Wolves, meanwhile, were left 13th, three points above the bottom three and embroiled in an extraordinarily tight, nine‑team, skirmish to stay out of the Championship.
Related: Newcastle 2-1 Wolves: Premier League – as it happened
The role sheer luck plays in determining both European qualification and the avoidance of relegation is often underestimated. After seeing fortune frown on his side in a first half where, despite being largely second best, Wolves were contentiously denied a penalty, Lopetegui felt more than a little hard done by as he and his players headed to the airport for their return flight to Birmingham.
The moment which most infuriated him arrived in the first half. When Nick Pope was played into trouble by Sven Botman’s back pass the England goalkeeper took a horribly awkward touch, enabling Raúl Jiménez to intercept. A backpedalling Pope responded by sticking out a leg and Jiménez promptly fell over it.
Yet although the Wolves manager demanded a penalty and red card, and many neutrals agreed, both Andrew Madley, the referee, and the non‑interventionist VAR officials saw things through a very different prism. “I felt we should have had a very clear penalty and red card,” Lopetegui said. “We are very unlucky with the referee. VAR didn’t do anything and I don’t know why. We are very unhappy.”
Unsurprisingly Howe had a contrasting view. “I felt Jiménez was on his way down before contact was made,” he said. “You might say I’m biased but that’s my Newcastle perspective.”
Howe had refreshed his entire front three, replacing Almirón, Callum Wilson and Anthony Gordon with Jacob Murphy, Alexander Isak and Allan Saint-Maximin and, shortly after the Pope incident, the hugely impressive Isak repaid his faith.
The goal began with an excellent, hallmark, free-kick from Kieran Trippier and featured the Sweden striker brushing his supposed marker, Castro Otto, aside before directing an impressively powerful header well beyond José Sá’s reach. “It was a real Newcastle No 9’s goal,” Howe said. “He’s got pace, technique, strength, everything you need. Alex is capable of great things.”
Wolves responded by placing Pope under intense pressure whenever he had the ball at his feet but, having recovered his composure, the England goalkeeper reacted smartly to save Jiménez’s shot.
A little later, Daniel Podence’s strike grazed the outside of a post yet if the visitors were far from out of it, a high-pressing Newcastle enjoyed the superior chances. While Isak had one shot blocked and Joe Willock saw another deflected, Bruno Guimarães also headed against the crossbar.
“The first half was right up there with our best performances of the season,” Howe said. “But 1-0’s a delicate lead and Wolves came back into it in the second half.”
While Isak, often combining intelligently with Saint-Maximin, continued relishing every opportunity to offer Lopetegui’s back four the most exacting of workouts, Wolves menaced, repeatedly, on the counterattack and Pope needed to be at his best to repel substitute Pedro Neto’s curling free‑kick. Neto proved heavily influential in his team’s post-interval renaissance and was invariably to be found at the heart of all Wolves’ best attacking manoeuvres.
It was not Neto’s fault that Ruben Neves, uncharacteristically, volleyed wildly off target and Pope denied João Moutinho.
Lopetegui then made another, similarly inspired substitution which prefaced Hwang Hee-chan scoring almost straight after stepping off the bench. Trippier had been outstanding but, endeavouring to make a fairly routine clearance from Hwang, the England right-back slipped, the ball rebounded off Jiménez and, with Pope wrong-footed, the South Korea striker was left to slide the most straightforward of levellers into an unguarded goal.
Howe had a substitute of his own to thank for a nerve-subduing winner. When Willock cleverly played in Almirón, the newcomer took a steadying touch before seeing his shot fly past Sá, albeit courtesy of a significant deflection off Max Kilman.
Lopetegui had paid a price for the arguably excessive caution which had seen him switch to that back five, apparently in order to protect the point. Wolves though looked a markedly poorer side after Nathan Collins replaced Moutinho following Hwang’s leveller.
“It’s a pity; with a penalty and a red card it would have been a different game,” Lopetegui said. “But we lost against a very good team. Now we have to improve.”