In the battle of the former Bournemouth managers, neither Eddie Howe nor Gary O’Neil could prevail. A full-blooded contest contained much high-end flair though another reminder that VAR serves to incite criticism and pressure on referees rather than make their life easier.
Anthony Taylor, the referee, delivered a series of debatable – and unpopular – decisions, including the penalty from which Callum Wilson scored his and Newcastle’s second. Taylor departed the scene to boos from home fans who had jeered his every subsequent decision; Stockley Park had taken an age to back the penalty call. The longer the video-room deliberation, the more suspicious the paying public become.
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Wolves, fired by injustice, eventually found their deserved equaliser through a twisting, turning Hwang Hee-chan, the Korean having given away the fateful penalty. Before that, Newcastle had looked likely to shake off their Champions League hangover and an in-form, dangerous opponent but as O’Neil said of his team: “We suffered a few setbacks out there and the lads held together.”
With Sandro Tonali’s worldwide ban for gambling confirmed by Fifa, Howe’s selection had been limited. He would make only one substitution. His squad are feeling the burn of Champions League football after injuries to Jacob Murphy and Alexander Isak against Borussia Dortmund. Drawing at Wolves completed what Howe called “a tough mental week, what with the Sandro situation”.
“I don’t think the schedule has necessarily caught up with us, more the injuries,” continued Newcastle’s manager. “You won’t find me moaning about the schedule.”
Amid the mizzle of Molineux, Pedro Neto, Wolves’ maestro, gave an early indication of his danger to those in Saudi Arabian green in blazing past a toiling Dan Burn, only to later leave the field with a hamstring problem. Hwang, who eventually matched the early-season Wolves goalscoring feat of old-gold icon Derek Dougan 50 years ago in scoring six goals from 10 matches, was equally lively from the start. Having revealed the secrets of his success in last week’s vindicating victory over Bournemouth on Monday Night Football, O’Neil’s team pressed high and fiercely.
Callum Wilson hooks the ball past Jose Sá after the Wolves goalkeeper had spilled a cross from Anthony Gordon. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
That press produced an early uncharacteristic error from Kieran Trippier to prelude an uncomfortable evening for the England player. Unfortunately for Wolves, Matheus Cunha’s finishing is yet to match the quality of the rest of his play.
Wolves were soon doubly punished as José Sá dropped Anthony Gordon’s cross into the path of Wilson, who gobbled up the chance to pass Shola Ameobi and Andy Cole in the table of Newcastle’s Premier League goalscorers.
Mario Lemina’s equalising header, from Neto’s corner, was just reward for Wolves’ endeavours. It also meant Neto passed Trippier to top the Premier League assists charts. Far more importantly, Trippier himself had been culpable with lax marking.
Hwang was the next to make an enforced error, with a challenge on Fabian Schär leading Taylor to award the penalty, but there was an interminable wait for the VAR review. Hwang looked to have kicked the ground first rather than the Newcastle defender. “Contentious … a strange one” admitted Howe. “A scandalous decision,” said O’Neil, “and really surprising it wasn’t overturned. I waste my time talking to them so I won’t bother until they improve.” Sá’s chance for redemption was denied when getting a hand to Wilson’s spot-kick, though not enough.
At half-time, the concourses were grumbling; a claim for a possible Bruno Guimarães handball had been waved away to a wild-eyed O’Neil’s displeasure and the Premier League’s probity being loudly called into question by an angry Jack Hayward Stand.
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“If that was us, you’d send him off,” Wolves fans sang after Hwang’s run was blocked by Jamaal Lascelles and a yellow rather than red card resulted. Such discontent was soon converted to defiant, spittle-flecked joy as Hwang slalomed past Burn to slot home, completing fine support play from Toti Gomes.
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“After I gave them a penalty I felt so sad so I really wanted to do something for my team,” said Hwang, luckless unfortunate turned hero.
The end-to-end thrills continued. Schär flashed a header wide, O’Neil introduced Sasa Kalajdzic for the limping Neto, the giant Austrian asking awkward questions of the Newcastle defence. One impressive takedown of a lofted ball caused panic in the Newcastle area but, despite the exhortations of their frantic, sodden managers, neither’s team could find a winner.
This story was corrected on 28 October 2023 to reflect the fact that Sasa Kalajdzic is Austrian, not a Serb