There is a strange sort of pressure before playing the teams directly below you in the table. You can see it in a lunchtime kick-off on a Saturday and it was the same on Tyneside on a Friday night.
With the fans able to leave work and head immediately to the pubs and bars of the city centre, the talk all week had been of an electric atmosphere; of St James’ Park being at its hostile, pulsating, partisan best. Wolves would be walking into a bear pit.
Instead, it was oddly subdued and quiet. It felt flat. There was tension and apprehension. A nervousness in the air rather than the noise of encouragement
Since putting together a nine-game unbeaten run in the league, to climb from second bottom into the lower reaches of midtable, Eddie Howe’s side have lost three in a row. Burnley’s midweek win over Everton cut the gap to the relegation zone down to seven points and Sean Dyche’s side are playing the worst side in the top flight, Norwich, on Sunday. A four-point gap with seven games left to play is not a place any team – especially one with Newcastle’s frailties – wants to be.
Wolves did not look overawed or in the least bit perturbed. Happy to sit back and let their hosts try to break them down. They struggled. The Magpies took 21 minutes to get into a vaguely threatening position to shoot, Miguel Almiron – on for the injured Ryan Fraser – leaning back and firing well over the bar. It was a typically poor finish from the Paraguayan.
There were a few flashes of quality from January signing Bruno, whose eye for a pass, movement and cross did see Chris Wood put the ball in the net. But the goal did not survive a Var check as the Brazil international was narrowly offside before sliding the ball across to the striker. It was the only impressive passing move Newcastle put together before the break.