For Newcastle United, this was an ending worthy of a boycott.
Down to 10 men for 38 minutes – including five of added time – following the dismissal of DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle held out with defiance and some composure and were 80 seconds away from earning a spirited and deserved point, when suddenly it felt like a sinkhole had opened up at St James’ Park.
Ayoze Pérez had the ball around 70 yards from his own goal. The tiring striker, who had endured a topsy-turvy afternoon that included a fine headed equaliser and a stray Willy Boly elbow to his face, lost possession.
The ball was ferried swiftly to the old gold shirt of Diogo Jota. Jota, too, had been involved all day, scoring the opener after 17 minutes with a cushioned volley and then being pulled down for Yedlin’s card
Now he raced from the halfway line and must have expected to be challenged before he reached the Newcastle penalty box. That was not the case, however, as Newcastle’s retreating defence kept back-pedalling.
It meant that Jota was about 10 yards out when he produced a rising shot. Martin Dubravka, not for the first time, saved it. But Dubravka’s parry had the ball in the air invitingly for anyone rushing in. Matt Doherty was that man.
The Irishman had scored the winner at Crystal Palace in October but this was much, much later. All Doherty had to do was make sure he hit the target. With a nod of the head, he did.
As Newcastle collapsed, the Wolves bench erupted. This has been a big week for Nuno Espírito Santo. After six games without a win, Wolves have beaten Chelsea and Newcastle in five days and are into the Premier League top 10 with 22 points.
It is a tally at this stage of the season which means Wolves can start planning for another year in the top flight.
For Newcastle, though, this was a second home defeat in eight days and while there is a measure of optimism surrounding Mike Ashley’s sale of the club, it is far from certain. Anticipation has not yet replaced hesitation on Tyneside. The planned supporter boycott of this televised game may have been postponed but, with seven losses at home, the issue will return if no progress on a sale is seen. Ashley was not here.
A raging Rafa Benítez did not wish to discuss the home record. He was still seething with the referee, Mike Dean, and on two counts. Benítez could barely contain himself on the touchline when Yedlin was shown a straight red card for dragging down Jota 20 yards from goal. Dean deemed the covering Jamaal Lascelles far enough from Jota for it to be a goalscoring opportunity.
“When you have a player in the corner of the box, with the ball two or three metres away, he was pulling DeAndre and DeAndre was pulling him, and Lascelles was close enough,” Benítez said. “I cannot believe that every time he would put the ball in the top corner and it’s a clear chance to score, I cannot believe that. It’s very difficult to explain to our fans, when the team is fighting for survival.”
That was the first injustice felt by Newcastle. The second came on 81 minutes when Pérez and Boly jumped for the ball in the Wolves area. Boly’s elbow caught Pérez who fell to the floor in a heap.
“I saw the replay and we need VAR, right now,” Benitez said. “Imagine how I feel now. You can see the two incidents in the video – it was unbelievable. It was an elbow in the face, he was bleeding. It was so obvious.”
Pérez was equally angry and, in a bizarre turn, said Dean had told him the ball had caused the bleeding, not an elbow. Not only did Dean not punish Boly, play went on with Pérez grounded. There was one of several menacing breakaways and this one climaxed with a neat dummy by the substitute Morgan Gibbs-White, a Doherty shot and a Dubravka save.
Nuno did not dispute the latter, saying it was a “clear elbow” from Boly. He did not think it intentional though. On the subject of the Yedlin red card, Nuno did not think Lascelles would have been quick enough to stop Jota, so then it was up to Dean.
The Wolves manager was being diplomatic, saluting Newcastle’s endeavour and Benítez’s coaching. But then Nuno could afford to be magnanimous. “The performance was not one of the best,” he said. But the result, and the manner of it, certainly was.