For all the £200m worth of new talent these teams have acquired this summer, the enduring quality and importance of their goalscorers shone through after Allan Saint-Maximin’s brilliant late volley extended Newcastle United’s unbeaten start to the season.
The French forward smashed home a memorable equaliser in the 89th minute, after Hwang Hee-chan’s miscued attempted clearance fell his way on the edge of the penalty area. This left Wolves ruing their failure to convert more than one of their few but clearcut chances after Rúben Neves had given them the lead late in the first half with a superb goal of his own.
Wolves are still seeking their first three points of the season but they were relieved to claim one after a hectic nine minutes of added time almost brought Newcastle a winner.
Saint-Maximin, after his first goal since January, ran clear only for José Sá to save brilliantly and then the Wolves goalkeeper was beaten as Neves tussled with substitute Elliot Anderson and the ball struck the crossbar. Fabian Schär shot just wide from a free-kick right on the edge of the penalty area with the last kick of the match.
Eddie Howe is concerned his expensive squad is fragile as “we picked up a couple of injuries today” after Callum Wilson and Bruno Guimarães had to miss the game with short-term issues, while Emil Krafth will be out for several months with an ACL injury.
“I felt the lads emptied the tank today,” the Newcastle head coach said, without specifying who gained new knocks. “We’ll have a look and count the bodies then see whether we have to make a move in the market.”
Howe expects Alexander Isak’s international clearance to be completed in time for his £60m striker, signed from Real Sociedad on Friday, to be involved in some capacity at Liverpool on Wednesday.
This was the first time Bruno Lage has been able to name his strongest Wolves side, including the three summer signings Nathan Collins, Gonçalo Guedes and Matheus Nunes who cost a combined £86m, as Raúl Jiménez and Nélson Semedo were available to start after injury.
Lage revealed that Willy Boly, no longer a starter for Wolves, did not turn up for the game as he attempts to force through a move to Nottingham Forest. “He has a proposal in his hands,” the Wolves head coach said. “He’s been a top professional and I understand he wants to move. But I said I need a top player like you on the bench. Then he didn’t come.”
With a recharged squad, Lage can expect to be judged in the coming weeks, especially if Wolves complete their move for the Austrian striker Sasa Kalajdzic from VfB Stuttgart by this week’s transfer deadline. With just two points and two goals from four games, he cannot be too relaxed about the inability to turn exciting and sophisticated attacking play into the currency that counts.
But the switch to four at the back has not so far made Wolves more penetrative and they have not won in 11 Premier League games. This week’s fixtures with Bournemouth and Southampton look fairly crucial.
Pedro Neto cut a frustrated figure at times at his teammates’ decision-making, and at the two VAR decisions that went against Wolves. Early in the second half Schär was booked for a high tackle on the winger, but the referee, Peter Bankes, did not go to the monitor to check for the possible red card.
Then Neto was, understandably, adjudged to have fouled Ryan Fraser, nine minutes before time, before he paced down the left and crossed superbly for Jiménez to net. “In the moment, the referee sees nothing but then the VAR talks to him and he changes his mind,” Lage said. “The first one [Schär’s tackle] I think if the VAR tells him to go and look, maybe he makes a better decision.”
When the breakthrough had come, it was from Wolves’ best player. Neto switched the play from right to left and when Guedes laid the ball back, Neves took one touch to steady himself before firing home from 25 yards.
Wolves’ new captain was everywhere and for all the comings and goings, retaining the services of Neves this summer could prove the best business of the lot.