NOTTINGHAM: ‘Ice cold’ Alexander Isak’s two-goal show at Nottingham Forest catapulted Newcastle United back into the Premier League Champions League mix — but Eddie Howe admits he still thinks there’s more to come from the Sweden international.
Isak was the Magpies’ man of the match at the City Ground as he added goal five and six to his Newcastle tally. Emmanuel Dennis had given the hosts an undeserved, against-the-run-of-play lead.
And while Isak was star of the show in the Midlands — helping his side to within a point of fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur — head coach Howe still believes we’re yet to see the finished article.
“It was a top performance from him (Isak),” Howe said.
“I thought he was a constant handful for Nottingham Forest. His pace and trickery were evident. I was really pleased with the two goals, and he’s building nicely to make a huge impact for us.
“I think confidence is key for any attacking player. The penalty was ice cool. It was a huge moment for us, in our season, and it’s not easy to do that, especially with the delay. But he put it away really well. The first goal was a slightly unorthodox finish, but it was great to see one hit the woodwork and fall in the net this time.”
Despite rumors of an injury crisis circling on social media pre-match, it was only top-scorer Miguel Almiron who missed out on the matchday squad. The Paraguayan looks set to miss the next six weeks with a muscle problem.
The team itself remained unchanged, and the continuity in selection reflected in performance, too, as the Magpies picked up against Forest where they left off against Wolves.
Some quality in the third is what Newcastle have been missing, but it didn’t take them much effort to open up Forest, not once but twice early doors.
Kieran Trippier sent Jacob Murphy clear down the right and his wicked ball in from the right was inch-perfect for Joe Willock arriving late. However, his finish with his left was wayward and didn’t trouble Keylor Navas’ goal from seven yards.
Soon after a clever, short free-kick by Trippier unleashed Isak but his deflected shot rebounded off the bar just as Renan Lodi, a summer target for the Magpies, looked to have turned it in.
With Newcastle on top and creating at will, they couldn’t let themselves down at the other end, could they? Well, that’s exactly what Sven Botman did as his attempted backpass turned into a one for the season blooper reel. Under little to no pressure from Andre Ayew, the Netherlands international tried to find Nick Pope but instead fed Dennis, who dinked over Pope and covering Trippier to turn the tables in this one.
Despite that blow, the visitors continued to play their football and again hit the bar on 35 minutes as this time Sean Longstaff took aim from distance.
And they got a deserved equalizer right on the stroke of half-time as Isak produced a wonderful finish, guiding a Willock cross in off the post.
While Forest had their moments in the second 45, it was the Magpies who remained firmly on the front foot and appeared the more willing and likely to go and claim all three points.
The excellent Murphy wrong-footed goalscorer Dennis down the right and found sub Elliot Anderson at back post, whose volley was saved. This was far from the only contribution the Scotland youth international made — one of which produced the most controversial call of what was an action and incident-packed half of football.
Just after the hour a floated ball in was nodded home by Anderson at the back post, cue scenes of jubilation as the young Geordie jumped into the away end at the City Ground to celebrate with his natives.
However, the goal was eventually ruled out, breaking his heart and dreams in the process, thanks to a touch by offside Longstaff in the build-up. It was a bizarre call by referee Paul Tierney, especially when Longstaff only played the ball when hit by a Forest player.
Murphy had a chance to win, so too Bruno Guimaraes before Brennan Johnson brought the best out of Pope at the other end in a rare Forest foray forward.
Serge Aurier cleared one goal-bound effort from hero Isak off the line before the game-changing call at the death. A ball in from the left was flicked goalwards by Isak and caught the hand of Moussa Niakhate. Tierney could make no mistake this time and pointed directly to the spot.
Cool as you like, the Swede looked Navas in the eyes and coaxed a move on the line from the South American keeper, before guiding the opposite way to send the thousands of jubilant Geordies behind the goal wild.
“The VAR goal is a good place to start, really. I’m not sure what happened there, I’ve got no idea, so I need to sit down and see what happened and what the thought process was,” Howe said of the Anderson disallowed goal.
“I was surprised to see the referee go over to the screen and make that decision and that call. It was what it was, and I think the big thing from that is that the players responded really well. Especially Elliot. It would have been easy for him to really curse that moment, with the fact that it was his first Newcastle goal.
“Back-to-back wins are hugely important in this division. The quality of the teams, the strength of the opponents, make it so difficult to do. Today, we came to a difficult away ground. I thought the Nottingham Forest supporters were really good in that first half and we lost control for ten or 15 minutes. They scored in that period, but it was a really good response in the second half from the team. It was a big moment in our season, and we managed to dig deep and find the winner.”