Eddie’s PLAY YOUR CARDS RIGHT
Poker face Howe shuffles pack and comes up with a pair of aces
EDDIE HOWE played his poker face when questioning Alexander Isak’s fitness on Friday. what he really had was an ace up his sleeve and a match-winning joker from the bench.
The Newcastle boss is not one for shuffling his pack — he has even been accused of blind loyalty to some — but by throwing his cards in the air and making an unprecedented five changes, he altered the course of his side’s stuttering campaign.
Isak, starting for the first time in a month, was electric, scoring the opener and injecting thrust into a forward line that has been going backwards in recent weeks.
But it was one of those axed, Miguel Almiron, who would prove Howe’s winning hand. In finding a ruthless streak, the head coach caused his top scorer to rediscover his own.
Almiron wears a permanent smile and would need a mask to look menacing. But his feet can terrify and wolves were running scared when, with the score at 1-1 in the
79th minute, the outstanding Joe willock, another of those restored to the team, found the Paraguayan in his favoured insideright channel.
we had seen this movie before and visiting boss Julen Lopetegui would have been peering through his fingertips as Almiron dropped a shoulder, cut onto his left boot and steered beyond Jose Sa for his 11th goal of the season.
It was the sort of goal he made look so routine before the turn of the year but, for Almiron and his team-mates, nothing has come so easily of late.
Newcastle looked set for a sixth match without a win after wolves substitute Hwang Hee- chan cancelled out Isak’s goal with his first touch on 70 minutes.
It was a comical concession, a mix- up between goalkeeper Nick Pope and defender Kieran Trippier seeing the latter slip and present Hwang with a tap-in. Not that the majority inside St James’ Park were laughing. Not with a match they had largely dominated heading for a draw, or perhaps worse.
That would have been unjust, but also entirely in keeping with a luckless run that had seen them slide from third to sixth since Boxing Day. To that end, Howe welcomed the good fortune of a first-half turning point upon which he and Lopetegui, unsurprisingly, disagreed.
It occurred with the game goalless in the 21st minute when Pope avoided a red card and the award of a penalty.
His last appearance here, when he was sent off against Liverpool, cost him a place in the Carabao Cup final. Having sailed through the season to that point, he has looked all at sea since. Not in terms of his handling — his gloves remain as safe as ever. Rather, it is his feet which have the yips.
Pope’s heavy touch left the home fans with another sinking feeling when Raul Jimenez stole in before colliding with the keeper and crashing to ground. At least, referee Andy Madley saw it as a collision as opposed to anything more sinister.
To everyone else, it looked like a spot-kick and probable dismissal. But was Madley, knowing the ball had run out of play, waiting instead for VAR to review the incident rather than decide himself? If so, it saved Newcastle.
Sticking with the umpire’s call is the fairest way to describe the instruction of those at Stockley Park in this instance. Yes, there was contact, and Pope had been clumsy in trying to correct his error, but enough to overturn? You suspect not. The same applies in reverse — had Madley given the penalty, it almost certainly would have stood.
‘For me it was very clear — a penalty and maybe a red card,’ said Lopetegui. ‘For me, it was unfair.’ Howe countered: ‘I felt Jimenez was on his way down before Nick touched him.’
From then until the break Newcastle produced their best league performance of 2023. They were in front on 26 minutes when Trippier delivered a free-kick from the right and Isak, stepping away from Jonny, flashed a header in to the bottom corner.
Both sides then traded chances. Newcastle’s Bruno Guimaraes hit the bar and Daniel Podence the post at opposite ends, before Trippier’s fluffed clearance allowed Hwang to score within 60 seconds of his introduction.
It took Almiron slightly longer to make his impact — he had been on the pitch for 11 minutes — but it was ultimately far more telling. So, how did he respond to being dropped?
‘ He has really attacked the situation,’ said Howe. ‘The team was in need and I had no doubt Miggy would come on in the right frame of mind. He’s a team player, he’s not about himself. I had no doubt about how he would respond.’ And of Isak, the £ 60million striker Howe had said was not ready for 90 minutes?
‘It was great to play Alex from the start,’ he said. ‘He was very impressive and showed what his game is all about with his pace and technique. The goal is a traditional Newcastle No 9 finish. Hopefully, that’s the start of a really good spell for him.’
Forty- eight hours on from his fitness subterfuge, there was no hiding Howe’s feeling of delight, not to mention relief, this time.
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-3-3): Pope 6.5; Trippier 6.5, Schar 6.5, Botman 7, Burn 7; Longstaff 7, Guimaraes 7, Willock 8; Murphy 7 (Ritchie 85min), ISAK 8.5 (Wilson 68, 6), Saint-Maximin 7 (Almiron 68, 8).
Scorers: Isak 26, Almiron 79.
Manager: Eddie Howe 7.5.
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (4-2-3-1): Sa 6; Semedo 5.5, Dawson 6, Kilman 6, Jonny 5.5 (Ait-Nouri 69, 5.5); Neves 6 (Hwang 69, 7), Lemina 6; Traore 5 (Neto 46, 6), Moutinho 6 (Collins 75, 5.5), Podence 6 (Nunes 69, 6); Jimenez 6.5. Hwang 70.
Julen Lopetegui 6. Andy Madley 6. 52,204.