The glamour of Milan in fashion week awaits, but it is gritty evenings taking care of domestic business that will guarantee a return ticket to the bright lights of Europe.
Not that Newcastle looked like a Champions League team for the majority of this slog beneath the fog.
But in Callum Wilson – making his first start of the season – Eddie Howe found the man to lift the gloom of recent results, three straight defeats which had threatened to become four after a start as miserable as the weather.
They dug in yet still needed a lucky break to dig them out of a hole and, after the misfortune of a disallowed Wilson goal that should have stood, they found it in the form of an invitation from Brentford goalkeeper Mark Flekken on 64 minutes,.
The Dutch stopper slid recklessly and needlessly as defender Aaron Hickey ushered the ball out of play for a goal-kick. Newcastle’s Anthony Gordon showed cunning in running straight for Flekken and duly accepted that invite to tumble. Craig Pawson pointed to the spot but it was a soft award, given Gordon’s cruel intentions. That was hard luck for Brentford but Wilson was never going to pass up the gift and he lifted elegantly into the top corner from 12 yards. So much for a pressure penalty.
Striker Callum Wilson scored a second-half penalty to secure victory for Newcastle
Wilson fired his spot kick into the roof of the net in the 64th minute at St James’ Park
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The England striker had every right to feel that favour of fortune was owed after Pawson had ruled out his goalmouth conversion moments earlier. He had, said the official, impeded Flekken with his arm as the ball dropped. This, though, was a classic case of a goalkeeper being afforded too much protection.
Perhaps Flekken thought he was invincible, then, when making that decision to slide along the by-line. He paid the penalty with a penalty and so Thomas Frank’s side lost for the first time this season.
You would not have thought their unbeaten run would expire after a purposeful start in which the flow of the game went with form.
There was an immediate show of support for Howe from the home crowd, his name ringing out around St James’ Park. But that chorus fell flat amid a spell of Brentford pressure. The visitors enjoyed all of the early territory and should have converted rned that into a lead when Mathias Jensen’s cute pass found Aaron Hickey free just eight yards from goal. The home defence were still exchanging quizzical glares when goalkeeper Nick Pope bailed them out, repelling Hickey’s blast with his chest.
While Brentford spent the opening 25 minutes passing and moving, Newcastle were reduced to pressing and chasing. Despite a return to the comfort of home after a 3-1 defeat at Brighton last time out, the Magpies looked anything but comfortable, and neither did Howe watching his team.
Brentford’s Yoane Wissa was a boot size away from poking his team in front as Jensen’s deflected cross bounced through the six-yard area on 23 minutes. It was another let-off for Newcastle but, belatedly, it served as a wake-up call.
Bruno Guimaraes should have given them the lead against the run of play when, from their first corner on 28 minutes, the ball landed on the Brazilian’s brow, unmarked at the far post. He headed on target but also straight at Flekken, who blocked with his feet on the goal-line.
Newcastle were awarded a penalty after Anthony Gordon went down under the challenge of Brentford goalkeeper Mark Flekken inside the box
Newcastle finished the half stronger but still they lacked fluency and imagination in attack. It was not the response Howe had demanded.
The recalled Wilson was ineffective in the first 45 minutes – but so, too, would the rested Alexander Isak have been, so isolated was the lone frontman. Harvey Barnes, meanwhile, was making his first start since a £38million move from Leicester but he was too pedestrian when a winger to quicken the stride was what they needed.
Failing that, they needed a lucky break, and that was exactly what they got when Flekken was adjudged to have fouled Gordon.
It was, though, just reward for a performance that was all about spirit and endeavour after a rocky run in which Howe had found himself taking questions on the criticism of him and his players.
Newcastle beat Brentford 5-1 here 12 months ago. That day captured everything good about Howe’s team. They had forward momentum in every sense. They have not regressed, but the juggernaut has certainly stalled of late. This was nervy and far from their best, but upon such victories can teams rediscover their spark.
Now for Italy and a return to the Champions League after 20 years away. Howe knows they will have to be better than this if they are to remain part of Europe’s elite competition.
Wilson pocked the ball home after a goalmouth melee but the goal was ruled out by VAR
Wilson reacts after his goal was ruled out by VAR for a slight touch on goalkeeper Flekken
But an ugly win will feel perfectly beautiful by the time they land amid the models and catwalks of Milan.
Newcastle enjoyed an escape when Yoane Wissa was unable to make contact with Jensen’s teasing cross as he slid in, but it was the Magpies who very nearly took the lead with 28 minutes gone.
After Fabian Schar’s long-range attempt had been deflected behind, Sven Botman got his head to Kieran Trippier’s corner and flicked the ball to the back post where Bruno Guimaraes saw his close-range effort repelled by keeper Mark Flekken.
Howe’s men, who had been methodical rather than dynamic to that point, were coming to life and Brentford’s problems increased when Rico Henry limped off with what appeared to be a knee injury and was replaced by Mads Roerslev.
Schar had to block a stoppage-time Wissa shot after he had been played in down the left by Vitaly Janelt, but there was nothing to choose between the sides when the half-time whistle sounded.
The second half unfolded much as the first had ended, with Newcastle enjoying the greater share of possession but unable to move the ball quickly or decisively enough to pierce the massed ranks of blue shirts. Brentford were playing on the counter but lacking precision when it mattered.
Schar and Harvey Barnes delivered menacing crosses in quick succession, but neither was able to pick out a team-mate, and although the Magpies did have the ball in the net with 57 minutes gone, referee Craig Pawson disallowed Wilson’s close-range finish for a foul on Flekken during the build-up.
Ref Craig Pawson overturned his penalty decision after reviewing it on the VAR monitor
However, they finally forced their way in front seven minutes later with Flekken and Wilson once again the central characters in the drama.
The Netherlands international keeper’s clumsy challenge on Anthony Gordon as full-back Hickey attempted to shield the ball back to him was adjudged by Pawson to be worthy of a penalty.
Wilson, who was made to wait before taking the spot-kick, did not waver as he blasted it high to Flekken’s left to open the scoring.
He thought he had been handed a chance to repeat the dose with 11 minutes remaining when Pawson pointed to the spot for a second time after Barnes’ header had hit the unwitting Bryan Mbeumo’s arm but after being asked to review his decision, the official changed his mind – although Newcastle eased across the finishing line with few real scares.
Newcastle: Pope 7; Trippier 6.5, Schar 6, Botman 6.5, Burn 6; Longstaff 6, Guimaraes 6.5, Anderson 6.5; Gordon 7, Wilson 7.5, Barnes 7 (Almiron 83)
Subs: Dubravka, Lascelles, Tonali, Targett, Isak, Hall, Livramento, Murphy
Manager: Eddie Howe 7
Brentford (3-5-2): Flekken 6.5; Collins 7, Pinnock 6.5, Mee 6.5 (Maupay 72); Hickey 6.5, Jensen 7, Norgaard 7 (Onyeka 72), Janelt 6.5 (Schade 72), Henry 6.5 (Roerslev 42, 6); Wissa 6, Mbeumo 6.5
Subs: Strakosha, Maupay, Schade, Zanka, Ghoddos, Onyeka, Lewis-Potter, Yarmolyuk
Manager: Thomas Frank 6
Ref: C Pawson 5
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