NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United put their European ambitions back on the agenda with a late win over Wolverhampton Wanderers — and skipper Kieran Trippier thinks the players should not be shy talking about the club’s Champions League dreams.
A late winner from Miguel Almiron ensured the Magpies leapfrogged Liverpool into fifth place in the Premier League. Alexander Isak had opened the scoring at St. James’ Park before Hwang Hee-Chan netted a second-half leveller.
Newcastle now sit just four points off the top four, with two games in hand on Tottenham Hotspur, who occupy the fourth and final Champions League spot. And while the Magpies have not qualified for that competition in just shy of two decades, Trippier admits the club has targeted a return to the continent’s top table this campaign.
“We shouldn’t be shy to say that. We are in a great position in the league. We have to take it one game at a time but we have to attack each game,” said the England defender.
“As a club, we want to be in Europe, we want to be in the Champions League but we know how relentless this league is and how tough the games are. So we have to stick together for 13 more matches and see where we are in May.
“It’s a nice feeling to get that win. The past few weeks have been difficult. We knew how important it was to get this win. Alexander (Isak) is back in the side and he played unbelievable.”
Howe made five changes to the side beaten at Manchester City last weekend. With Callum Wilson carrying an injury Isak was brought back into the team, while Fabian Schar, Allan Saint-Maximin, Jacob Murphy and Joe Willock all got a recall.
The Magpies had an early let-off when a Nick Pope howler, miscontrolling a ball back to him, gifted straight to Raul Jimenez, but the Mexican’s attempt to beat the keeper ended in a dive in a failed attempt to win a penalty. Referee Andrew Madley was having none of it.
With St. James’ Park lacking its usual spark, the players had to raise their own energy on the pitch. And they soon did, with Swede Isak the catalyst.
A wonderfully curled free-kick from Trippier was expertly nodded home from around the penalty spot by Isak, who rewarded Howe for his selection faith.
It could, and should, have been 2-0 moments later as Isak was found over the top, his ball in was bundled the way of Willock, whose goalbound effort was deflected wide by Jose Sa.
Bruno Guimaraes was next to go close as he flicked a header off the bar after Dan Burn recycled a set piece that looked to be drifting out.
While the Magpies were dominant after their goal, the visitors still carried a threat. That was evident when Daniel Podence cut in from the Wolves left to hammer off the foot of Pope’s post.
Wolves came out a totally different unit in the second half, putting the hosts on the back foot. Substitute Pedro Neto was lively and went close to a leveller when he unleashed a rasping effort from the edge of the area, only for Pope to show a strong hand to palm away.
The England stopper, who was shaky with the ball at feet but at his best when it came to shot stopping, again showed why his presence in the Newcastle side has been transformative this campaign, as he got down low to clear a Joao Moutinho volley as Wolves pilled on the pressure.
Just as Pope’s resilience looked set to keep things clean at the Gallowgate End, a scruffy-looking mix-up involving Trippier gifted an equalizer on a silver platter to Hwang. The South Korean was the beneficiary as Trippier slipped when attempting to clear with Pope stranded covering his full-back. In fairness, it was just what Wolves deserved, having peppered Pope’s net in the second 45.
But with time ticking away, Howe threw on the cavalry, the key change being top-scorer Almiron off the bench. And the Paraguayan justified Howe’s call when he ghosted down the right, found Willock in the middle, then drifted into space in the area where he caressed past Sa for a late winner against the run of play.
And Sven Botman almost put the icing on the cake in added time after he blazed over when well placed after some smart work by Almiron and Wilson out wide.
Goalscorer Isak admits he has had to be patient for his moment at Newcastle, but feels like he took it, having scored his fourth goal of the season.
He said: “I’ve been wanting to play more but it has been giving me a bit of fuel and I’m happy to start today and get three points.
“I’ve had to be patient but I’ve been working hard. The team have been playing good but we haven’t got the results and today was all about winning.
“We created a lot of chances and could have scored three or four in the first half. Fortunately, two was enough.
“Even though we haven’t been getting the results we wanted, we have been playing well. Now we have a positive feeling for next week.”
Newcastle travel to Nottingham Forest on Friday evening, knowing a win could take them to within touching distance of Spurs in fourth, as well as further cement their place in the European competition qualifying spots with 13 games left to play.