This was in many ways the exact sort of victory that could be used as evidence for Newcastle’s rapid growth to the elite.
It was precisely the sort of home game any Big Six supporter will be familiar with, in which a very decent team from the next tier down comes with a clear and well-executed plan and finds you on the sort of day that inevitably happens from time to time when you’re not quite at your best for whatever reason.
And what you, as the Big Team, have to do in those games is somehow find a way to win them anyway. It’s what Arsenal couldn’t do, to their great annoyance, against Newcastle themselves a couple of weeks ago.
Newcastle, though, found a way. With time running out they found, from Kieran Trippier, Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak, a series of moments of clarity and calm in a game broadly lacking in those. Isak declined the opportunity to take a low-percentage, high-risk popshot in favour of keeping the move alive. Trippier played a calm and nicely weighted pass to Sean Longstaff to swing in his cross. Wilson then got the ball back across for Isak to nod in after the ball broke kindly. It was, in all, about five seconds in a 90 minutes where such composure was generally lacking.
Now nowhere was that all-round lack of calm and composure more spectacularly evident than in Fulham’s penalty. Everything about it was a glorious slice of Barclays, with Newcastle’s late winner the eventual icing on the banter cake.
First of all, and this feels important, was it a penalty? We don’t think it was. If anything, on the replays it looked like a foul on Kieran Trippier rather than the other way round. But we do also think Fulham had a better penalty shout about 30 seconds earlier. Do two half-decent penalty shouts in the same passage of play equate to one fully decent one? According to the rules, no, apparently not. But Fulham got their penalty anyway.
After two penalty shouts resulted in one penalty, there were briefly two balls on the pitch and also a yellow card for Nick Pope for some reason. Then the main event. Two shouts, two balls and then two touches from Aleksandar Mitrovic sent the ball spinning cartoonishly slowly and pointlessly into Pope’s net.
The brief celebrations were swiftly cut short and there was something oddly amusing about seeing Newcastle take an indirect free-kick from their own penalty spot.
Even a goalless draw would have felt like something for Newcastle after a let-off like that. But producing that fabled one moment of quality to settle a game until that moment defined by a moment of highest farce made it another wonderful afternoon for Newcastle.
Their own dramatic improvement – which can be traced quite far back into last season – is combining with the assorted strife and woe befalling Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea to put their project way ahead of schedule.
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