Newcastle thought they were signing “a top player” when they broke their transfer record to bring in striker Alexander Isak from Real Sociedad – and now he is delivering in what could become a “special season” for the club.
Isak’s double in a dramatic 2-1 victory over Nottingham Forest on Friday ensured Newcastle kept up their challenge for a top-four finish, moving within a point of fourth-placed Tottenham.
The Swedish striker netted a superb equaliser on the stroke of half-time before coolly slotting in a stoppage-time winner from the penalty spot to spark scenes of celebration from the travelling fans behind the goal at the City Ground.
Manager Eddie Howe said it was a “huge moment” in Newcastle’s season and Isak’s form could help deliver the ultimate prize of a top-four finish.
Isak ‘ice cool’ in significant moment
It was a standout performance from Isak, who now has six goals in 10 Premier League appearances having fought off competition from team-mate Callum Wilson for a starting role in recent weeks.
Isak, who signed for the Magpies in a deal that could be worth £60m, scored in the 2-1 win over Wolves last weekend before netting both goals in Nottingham and now says their European hopes are “in our own hands”.
“We are always dangerous and create chances. It is just a matter of whether it goes in or not,” said 23-year-old Isak.
“We believe and we know that we have it in our own hands and have a good chance. We have to keep on taking it one game at a time and try to win.”
Toon boss Howe said Isak was “ice cool” when taking the late penalty and that the confidence gained from his recent performances will be “key” going forward.
“It’s a huge moment for us in our season. It’s not easy to do that but he put it away really well. The first goal was a slightly unorthodox finish. It’s great to see,” added Howe.
“I thought he was a constant handful for Nottingham Forest. His pace and trickery was evident. He’s building nicely to make a huge impact for us.
“We felt we were signing a top, top player that was capable of doing amazing things. I thought he showed that [at Forest].
“But I believe with every player there’s room to improve and he has a huge part to play in our future.”
‘It’s there for them’ – can Newcastle grab top four?
Newcastle had gone five Premier League games without a win before picking up back-to-back victories over Wolves and Forest.
They had been frustrated in draws with Crystal Palace, West Ham and Bournemouth, but have they turned a corner having come from behind to win for the first time in the league this season on Friday?
“Now it looks like Newcastle are in a real fight for the top four,” ex-Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports.
“What impresses me is their running power. Every time I watch Newcastle, it feels like you are watching a really intense team.
“Isak has his goals but he isn’t just a goalscorer. There’s a lot more to his game. The pace he provides to run in behind, the coolness in his finishing… He does everything you want from a top striker.”
Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville believes Newcastle could have a “special season” if they continue to grind out results.
“It’s there for them. Manchester United are still in two competitions. Newcastle are in a position where they will have a clear run and a real go at it,” said Neville.
“This is the time to hit form. Eddie Howe wont be getting carried away but he will be a lot more confident. Isak looks like he has rhythm and he is on a roll.”
‘A lot of whingebags in their team’
Nottingham Forest manager Steve Cooper was left deflated as defeat sees them remain just two points above the relegation zone heading into the international break.
“The overriding feeling at the moment is disappointment because of the result and how we haven’t covered ourselves in glory in the build-up to the goals. I’m annoyed with ourselves,” he added.
“It’s the worst way to lose, giving away a penalty in the dying moments and it being the decisive goal. But win, lose or draw we were still going to be among a group of teams fighting it out.
“That hasn’t changed but we would have liked a point or three points – but it wasn’t to be.”
Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey faced his former club Newcastle for the first time and felt Forest “deserved something from the game” despite showing “naivety” in conceding the goals.
However, there was no friendliness on the pitch between Shelvey and his former team-mates.
“I didn’t think they [Newcastle] would whinge as much as they did on the pitch. But it is a game of football,” he told Sky Sports.
“I represent this football club now. I will give it my all. But yeah, a lot of whingebags in their team. I will tell them that – only in a jokey way.
“I hope they get into Europe and I have just positive words about the club.”
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