SAM DALLING (@SamJDalling) from the stands at Molineux…
Newcastle: Pope, Trippier, Lascelles, Schär, Burn, Longstaff, Guimarães, Joelinton, Wilson, Gordon, Almirón (Willock 72)
Goals: Wilson 22′ 45′
Wolves: Sa, Nelson Semedo, Kilman, Dawson, Gomes, Neto (Kalajdzic 77), Lemina (Joao Gomes 86), Traore (Doyle 54), Ait-Nouri, Hwang, Matheus Cunha
Goals: Lemina 36′ Hwang 71′
It tipped down at Molineux. Again. Not the fine kind of rain that soaks you through, but the heavy, dense stuff that drenches you. The type that gathers menacingly on concrete, each extra drop added creating sound not dissimilar to Dortmund’s beating drum. Oh no, not the drum.
Not dissimilar to this fixture a couple of years back, an afternoon that is set to forever remain a touchstone in Newcastle United history. Wolves away you say? Remember when Steve Bruce looked the Zoom camera square in the eye and trotted out the same guff as he had the week, the month, the season before?
Back then a £30 away ticket cap screamed Fernando Torres to Chelsea “value for money” levels. Back then United were directionless, rudderless, motionless. No, wait – meaningless, they were meaningless. There was no bite, no fight, and a manager not even a tad contrite. Back then Hwang Hee-Chan got Wolves’ first home goal of the season to secure victory.
And now? Well, Hwang again scored, and a brilliant goal it was too. The intelligence, the foresight to drop the shoulder, watch Dan Burn slide by and roll in at the near post. But why are goalkeepers so averse to catching? Yes, it was slippery. Yes, sometimes a punch is required. But not this time. Just grab it between two hands. They used to without gloves once upon a time. Nick Pope’s kicking renowned for being dismal, and so there is little point re-covering that ground. It is the attribute that will ensure he does not retain the number one shirt for more than the next 18 months or so. But come on lad, catch it. Still Hwang’s strike denied United a victory that would probably have been undeserved. Gary O’Neil will certainly see it that way, but a draw feels about fair.
One thing the home fans did not believe fair was Anthony Taylor’s officiating. The first half was on its last legs when Fabian Schär was brought down in the area. Taylor instantly awarded a penalty, a decision that stood after a lengthy VAR check. Felled though, the Swiss was not. No matter. Callum Wilson had done his usual “hang out as far as possible from the spot” routine but eventually just about beat Jose Sa.
That was the second time Wilson had given us the lead. The first was a true poacher’s effort, a goalkeeping mistake down the other end punished. His goals to minutes ratio make for pretty reading, although he was otherwise quiet. Craig Dawson made sure of that. If anyone is looking for a cheap back-up centre half…
There is something likeably dislikeable about Wolves. It is a proper club, the heart of a city historically built on industry. On the field they have plenty of that, and some quality too. Pedro Neto was the cause of many a black and white palpitation and had he not ‘gone in the fetlock’, Wolves may well have taken all three points. No one likes to see a fellow professional stretchered off, but Burn will have doubtless breathed a relieved sigh.
To reach the ground from the station, one wanders past the old-red brick buildings, past sellers of pork scratchings, past programme sellers charging £6 a pop. Six bloody quid. For a programme. Wembley this is not. It was, apparently, a “special” edition. One seller predicted the backlash and wore a home-made sign stating “I do not set the prices”.
There was a group raising cash for a dementia charity too. A donation got you a homemade meat samosa, and a moment or two’s warmth in the chill with it. Crisp, deep fried glory soon gave way to the pain of a filling impossibly hot. They will set off for the return fixture five days early and walk their way to SJP. Doubtless Sky or TNT or whoever decides these things will bring the kick-off forward 24-hours after they have set off.
Samosa aside, the day’s only other heat source was the ridiculous flames situated way to close to what is a chode of an away “side”. The Alan Shearer nearly moment ensures fireworks are nowhere near football grounds.
Some football based observations follow.
Kieran Trippier requires rest. One loathes to criticise him as he is fucking mint. But there have been signs of what is (hopefully, purely fatigue-based) sloppiness in the last two matches.
O’Neil is an excellent young manager, the next Eddie Howe perhaps. When he appeared on MNF, plenty fawned over his explanation of what was a pretty simple concept. But here he had Wolves double up on Anthony Gordon to great effect. Gordon barely threw a punch, let alone landed one. Here he asked for aggression from his full-backs and got it. Here he saw our weaknesses and took advantage.
Bruno reads the game like Dame Judi Dench reads Shakespeare. And that is to say, no words are required – everything is committed to memory. He and his sodden green shirt were everywhere, every time. If there is one criticism, it is that his falling on the ball to buy a foul is working less frequently. Perhaps time to cut it out.
Sadly, the presence of a quintet of full-backs plus a pair of goalkeepers on the bench is proof that United do not yet have the means to compete on too many fronts. As much as victory at Old Trafford would be sweet, there may be little sense in fielding already knackered first-teamers in the Carabao Cup. Oh for an equaliser at SJP last week.
Still, ask politely, and plenty will tell the tale of a Rolando Aarons goal at the Etihad or a Nile Ranger effort at then-champions Chelsea. Both came in cup victories. Hope then. There is always hope, right? October at Molineux it might be, but 2021 it is not.
SAM DALLING / @SamJDalling