Thursday, December 8

Chris Wood penalty sinks Wolves and eases Newcastle’s relegation fears | premier league

Eyebrows were raised when Newcastle United triggered the £25m release clause in Chris Wood’s contract in January.

The consensus was that Eddie Howe had overpaid but it seemed money very well spent here as Wood’s second-half penalty lifted his new side to the heady heights of 14th in the Premier League, virtually extinguishing Tyneside’s fears of Championship football next season.

Bruno Lage’s Wolves arrived with loftier aims but paid the price for an appalling lack of ambition and were fortunate not to fall behind in the first half when Wood had a goal disallowed.

With Newcastle inhabiting the often hazardous borderland between relegation waters and mid-table terra firma and Wolves sitting right on the margin separating European qualification from the also ranks there was plenty at stake.

If the absence of arguably the visitors’ two best players; the suspended Raúl Jiménez and the injured Rúben Neves offered home fans because of cautious optimism, Howe was suitably wary. It was not just that his side of him needed to arrest a run of three straight defeats but that their 5-1 thrashing at Tottenham last Sunday had been alarmingly comprehensive.

Newcastle’s manager claimed that his team were now playing for their futures and had seen “another side” to him in training this week but he resisted making wholesale changes. Indeed with Bruno Guimãraes replacing the injured Joe Willock the only unforced alteration saw Emil Krafth take over from Javier Manquillo at right back.

By the 12th minute though Howe had no option but to shuffle his pack, sending the latterly little-used Miguel Almirón on in place of the hamstrung Ryan Fraser.

At this stage it had become clear Lage’s side were on a mission to draw the sting from Newcastle’s early attacking aggression and, slowing the tempo at every opportunity, they succeeded in frustrating both their hosts and another full house at St James’ Park.

It left both goalkeepers under-occupied amid a surfeit of sideways and backwards passing. Admittedly odd improvisational cameos raised the tone with Jonjo Shelvey’s glorious chipped pass to Allan Saint-Maximin lingering in the memory but these were exceptions to the general rule.

The crowd’s mounting anxiety lifted briefly when Almirón’s wonderfully audacious back heel prefaced Chris Wood overcoming the fact that he was down on the ground in the penalty area by extending a leg and somehow hooking the ball into the net.

As Newcastle celebrated and Lage threatened to implode, a VAR review revealed that Guimãraes had been fractionally offside in the buildup and the goal was ruled out. As the Wolves manager gradually calmed down the action reverted to earlier type. In other words it revolved around a mix of far too many cheap concessions of possession from both teams and a series of increasing desperate long balls on Newcastle’s part.

Indeed by half-time the visiting determination to play a primarily horizontal game – Wolves sole half chance involved Jonny blasting a shot well off target – had served as a highly effective mute button virtually silencing an initially raucous arena.

Wolves were not merely unambitious, they were so poor it was hard to credit precisely how they have enjoyed such a fine season. It speaks volumes that when the game’s first corner was finally awarded – to Wolves – in the 49th minute it felt like a big event. Unfortunately, if typically, it came to nothing.

At least Lage’s side were beginning to make a few, albeit still fairly rare, expeditions out of their own half and, with Hee-Chang Hwang and João Moutinho waking up a little had even started breaking into Newcastle’s box from time to time. When, in the fall out from a free-kick, Moutinho conjured a fabulous volleyed cross no one, typically, could connect with it.

Had Fábio Silva been able to meet that delivery Howe’s defense could have been in trouble. They badly needed to regain the initiative but when Wood flicked a dangerous ball on in the area it fell to Dan Burn and the central defender shot straight at José Sá.

When Saint-Maximin lofted a half volley over the bar from a promising position the pessimism in the stands felt almost palpable but then Wood won that penalty. Played in by some fancy footwork on the part of Saint-Maximin and then Joelinton, the New Zealand centre-forward cleverly left his foot in as he invited Sá to trip him.

As the striker fell to earth and the referee, Peter Bankes, pointed to the penalty spot, Lage’s goalkeeper turned incandescent, punching thin air in fury. Once he calmed down – and a VAR review confirmed he had not been offside – Wood took the kick himself, striking it high into the net as Sá went the wrong way.

With Martin Dubravka’s save subsequently denied Silva to equalize from Marcal’s cross, it was enough to ensured the decibel level was restored to full volume at the final whistle.

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