Newcastle United 1 – 0 Fulham. Substitute Alexander Isak made sure the “work was worth it” says manager Eddie Howe, as the Newcastle striker marked his return from injury with an 89th-minute winner against Fulham.
Club record signing Isak, on his first league appearance since September, nodded home from close range at a jubilant St James’ Park to send Newcastle back into third in the Premier League.
It came after Aleksandar Mitrovic’s converted penalty for Fulham was unusually disallowed when he accidentally kicked the ball onto his standing foot as he slipped while striking the ball.
It was a dramatic final 30 minutes to a tight game in which Newcastle edged without being able to create clear chances.
In the end, Isak, who made a promising start to life on Tyneside before his injury, was in the right place to convert strike partner Callum Wilson’s knock-back.
“The goal was a special moment,” Howe said.
“You want to hit the ground running at a new club and he did before the injury.
“He had to wait and watch the team do well in his absence. He’s worked hard. For these moments the work was worth it.”
Fulham manager Marco Silva was booked for protesting after the final whistle, with his side unfortunate to see their five-game winning run end.
Newcastle is now one point behind second-placed Manchester City.
They have a five-point buffer over Tottenham as they continue their unexpected push for Champions League qualification, although Spurs will cut it to two if they beat leaders Arsenal later on Sunday.
Sweden striker Isak, a £60m signing last summer, scored twice in his first three games before being sidelined by a thigh injury.
Here he was sent on in the 71st minute and only had two touches in the Fulham box, one of which proved pivotal.
Newcastle had hit the post through a Fabian Schar free-kick in the second half but, without midfielder Bruno Guimares – who left the field in tears at half-time because of injury – they had been kept at arm’s length by an impressive Fulham.
Newcastle registered a fifth successive clean sheet in the Premier League for the first time, and an unbeaten run of 14 games is their joint-best in the top flight.
The wave of optimism on Tyneside boosted further by securing a first cup semi-final in 18 years on Tuesday, shows little sign of dying down.
Mitrovic’s penalty was unusual but the protests from Newcastle’s players were instant.
While the ball may have gone into the right side of Nick Pope’s goal, it did so via a deflection of Mitrovic’s left boot.
Referee Rob Jones awarded the spot-kick – for a foul against Kieran Trippier – after consulting the television monitor.
Immediately after another penalty appeal was waved away, Bobby Decordova-Reid seemed to make the first contact with Trippier’s boot before the England defender’s tackle then swept the forward to the ground.
Silva thought the earlier incident – a pull by Dan Burn on Andreas Pereira which was not punished – not only merited a penalty but a red card.
“It is a clear penalty, a red card for the player and the game would be completely different,” he said.
Fulham had few further chances but deserved a point for their effort and defensive organisation.
Silva added: “We missed a penalty and we should have attacked more. Credit to them for not giving us more chances. We knew we could not press for the full 90 minutes. We were very unlucky this afternoon.”
The disappointment at losing to one of the Premier League’s leading sides shows how far the Cottagers have come.
They are sixth in the table on 31 points, having already beaten their tally from the last time they were in the top flight.
source – BBC