‘TRICKY’ RITCHIE’S PENALTY MAKES WAGNER RAGE AT TOON’S TRIUMPH
Magpies consolidate lead at top with fortunate win
NEWCASTLE scored two controversial goals as Huddersfield missed the chance to close in on automatic promotion.
Brighton’s shock 3-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest meant victory would have propelled David Wagner’s side to within three points of the second-placed Seagulls.
But Matt Ritchie’s cool penalty and a clever finish from Daryl Murphy put the table-topping Toon out of sight before half time.
Wagner, though, felt neither should have stood. Ritchie tumbled under minimal contact from Nahki Wells to win his spot-kick, while Murphy appeared to kick the ball out of Danny Ward’s grasp.
Aaron Mooy’s penalty deservedly reduced arrears but Dwight Gayle’s late clincher eventually brought the curtain down on Huddersfield’s seven-game unbeaten run – and left Wagner fuming.
“I think we played well,” said Wagner, who watched the game from the directors’ box as he served the second of a two-match touchline ban.
“The players invested everything. I was very happy that they kept their heads up because the first two goals were harsh to take.
“I still believe that the first pen wasn’t a pen. For the second, if Danny controls the ball then he is not allowed to be attacked. He got attacked, got injured, and they scored.
“In these games, small details decide the game and those details went against us. In the second half, we tried everything we could against a top team but it wasn’t enough.”
Wells was desperately unlucky to see Roger East point to the spot but, in truth, was the architect of his own downfall. The Terriers striker, back to defend a corner, first lashed a wild clearance straight into Jonjo Shelvey.
As the England midfielder
slipped an instant ball to Ritchie, Wells then compounded his error by appealing for a non-existent handball. Yet having shown the presence of mind to pull out of a challenge, he was understandably furious to see Ritchie fall. From the spot, the Newcastle winger struck an unstoppable 13th goal of the season.
Huddersfield’s response was typically spirited. Michael Hefele headed over, Philip Billing tested Karl Darlow with a 30-yard howitzer.
Yet no sooner was a head of steam summoned than a sucker punch doused the coals. Shelvey’s looping ball was sublime, Murphy’s touch a dud.
Ward should have collected but lost a 50-50 with the Toon striker, who picked up the pieces and craftily sent the ball back through Ward’s legs. The Terriers keeper – injured in the clash and subbed at half-time – protested vehemently but replays showed only one hand on the ball.
Driven by a sense of injustice and the combination of silk and steel provided by Billing and Mooy, the Terriers again bit back.
Aussie midfielder Mooy – terrific as usual – was one of several players to go close from range and eventually got his reward from the spot when Shelvey clumsily felled Elias Kachunga.
But genuine Terriers chances were scant and they were killed off on the counter when sub keeper Joel Coleman misjudged a header, allowing Gayle to nod into an empty net.
“We knew that it was a very difficult week against two great teams,” said Benitez, whose side beat Brighton in midweek and now sit 11 points clear. “So I am really pleased.
“We knew that they were dangerous going forward. They are a very good team and are in this position because they deserve it.
“We needed discipline and a good idea of the defensive work. Winning the second balls and counter-attacks were key and that is what we did.
“I will not say we were comfortable because they were pushing, they were passing the ball. But we defended very well. We are in a good position now but we have nothing yet.”
STRIKING IT RITCH: Matt Ritchie scores his controversial penalty and, inset, Daryl Murphy enjoys Newcastle’s second
OPENERS: Newcastle United’s Matt Ritchie scores their first goal
Huddersfield Town's Aaron Mooy scores their first goal with a penalty