Rafael Benítez must hate it when the fourth official holds up the board for added time against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Just as Matt Doherty had headed a winner in the 94th minute at St James’ Park in December, so Newcastle United were again undone by a last-gasp goal as Willy Boly headed in Adama Traoré’s deep cross in the 95th.
Boly was able to head beyond a flapping Martin Dubravka in an aerial duel at the back post but once Benítez had moved beyond his disappointment, the Newcastle manager should still take great heart from the resolve his side displayed as Isaac Hayden’s rare goal earned United the draw that lifts them a point above the relegation zone.
Benítez initially said his goalkeeper should have defended Traoré’s high cross better before revealing his true feelings. “In England they don’t understand the rules,” he said. “It was already the 94th minute so you can say too many things that won’t change what happened, like we couldn’t change in the first game. I’m obviously disappointed but very happy with the performance of the team.”
Asked to clarify if he believed the referee, Graham Scott, had made a mistake, he added: “The six-yard box is there to protect the keeper. You have to protect the keeper. We have been here for years and it’s still very difficult to explain that.”
The concession of the late goal added insult to injury for Benítez, clearly still holding a grudge for the events at St James’s where he believed Boly should have been dismissed for elbowing Ayoze Pérez in Wolves’ penalty area. “I think we have to be really disappointed with the way we concede in both games against this team,” he added. “After an elbow in the face of my player and a penalty not given and then we concede today, you can analyse it. But I’m really disappointed to concede this way against a good team.”
Certainly Wolves refuse to admit when they are beaten. They have now scored 14 goals after the 80th minute this thrilling season, six of those coming in added time. There is a resilience that comes with belief. “Yes that we have until the last minute,” Nuno Espírito Santo, the Wolves head coach, said. “Till the last second the referee whistles to finish, we keep going. For that I am really pleased because it one of the things we must keep on doing, [showing] character and believing. We have had a lot of moments like this.”
Wolves may have been thwarted in their bid to chalk up a fourth successive top-flight victory for the first time since 1972 but refreshed by their warm-weather training trip to Marbella, they still strengthened their hold on seventh place in the Premier League and now turn their attention to the FA Cup fifth-round tie at Bristol City.
The uneasy peace between Benítez and the Newcastle United hierarchy could yet lead to happier times. Not only has the manager been able to find a formula that has also brought victories over Cardiff City and Manchester City, he has also been able to introduce a £21m attacking presence and Miguel Almirón came off the bench to applause almost as rapturous as that greeting Hayden’s first goal since October 2017. Benítez has made it plain that talk of his Newcastle future must wait till the summer. But at least a thaw seems to be in evidence.
Wolves, with five wins from their previous seven games, were the dominant team in the first period, with Raúl Jiménez, eight goals from his last 11 starts, doing everything but score. The manner in which he took the long route to get past DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Schär before unleashing a shot that Dubravka was happy to save was indicative of his soaring confidence.
Newcastle finished the half the stronger, however, Salomón Rondón running on to Pérez’s clever angled pass and managing a shot that only went wide after Conor Coady’s tackle. Eleven minutes after the restart, it was a similar through ball that set up their goal.
It is 16 months since Hayden last scored but when Boly was caught on his heels as Schär strode forward and played a pass down the inside-right channel, the midfielder showed no hesitation as he shot powerfully home at the near post, exposing Rui Patrício’s early decision to dive the other way.
Hayden would have been an unlikely hero. Having had requests to leave rejected in each of the past two transfer windows, to move south to be nearer his infant daughter, he may just have played a crucial part in Newcastle’s effort to stay up.