Mag­pies con­sol­i­date lead at top with for­tu­nate win

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Chris Dunlavy

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

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

OPEN­ERS: New­cas­tle United’s Matt Ritchie scores their first goal

Hud­der­s­field Town's Aaron Mooy scores their first goal with a penalty

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