After 80 minutes that felt like a slog deep in midwinter rather than Premier League game No 6, Wolves and Newcastle awoke.
Raúl Jiménez’s strike from a poorly cleared Neto free-kick seemed to have made it a third consecutive 1-0 win for Wolves, only for Jacob Murphy to rewrite this script.
Steve Bruce’s side had barely moved beyond the centre circle in the second half. Yet after claiming a free-kick to the left of Wolves’s area with three minutes left, up stepped Murphy to curl the equaliser around the wall and past Rui Patrício’s fingertips.
If this was a touch unfair on Wolves they have to accept some culpability for taking the match to Newcastle only sporadically. From the XI that schooled Leeds in Monday’s 1-0 win, Nuno Espírito Santo brought in Rúben Neves for João Moutinho.
Bruce’s reaction to the 4-1 capitulation to Manchester United was to choose Fabian Schär, Ryan Fraser, Murphy and Miguel Almirón instead of Emil Krafth, Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden and Joelinton.
When in flow Wolves are a medley of gold shirts running to and off the ball and from kick-off they had their visitors chasing them. Daniel Podence, playing off Jiménez, drifted into space at will, one of these moves having him turning for goal and unloading at Karl Darlow, who saved low down.
This presaged three more attacking moments from Wolves. First, Neto hit a corner straight into Darlow’s gloves; then Jiménez twice miscued when he should have connected cleanly.
It meant Nuno’s men had failed to convert from four opportunities and Newcastle quickly moved from relief to posing their own threat. Callum Wilson raced on to a long ball before Max Kilman’s challenge conceded a corner. This the first of two in quick succession, Ryan Fraser delivering each, and while their hosts were not breached Newcastle had their respect.
The fluidity of Wolves’s play is complemented by tenacity, though. It was illustrated when soaking up pressure at Elland Road and was shown here again in a response that once more had Newcastle pinned back as possession was tapped in and around them.
Bruce’s side were able to stymie them from moving into the final third yet there was scant sign – the Wilson foray, apart – of Rui Patrício, the Wolves No 1, being threatened. It meant that as the contest passed the half-hour mark entertainment had become as rare a commodity as any actual attempts on goal. When Fraser ran along the right and floated in a cross aimed at Wilson this pattern might have been broken but the ball was too close to Patrício, who gathered with ease.
And when Almirón skated through the middle to cause a Wolves’ backpedal the pass might have been weighted perfectly for Allan Saint-Maximin but the No 10’s shot was skewered wide.
Finally Podence, at the other end, twisted and turned to leave two Newcastle defenders spectators, the subsequent ball in possessing menace: Jiménez rose and only a well-timed Jamaal Lascelles intervention prevented the Mexican heading at goal.
The mood caught on. Tempo was upped, quality elevated. Suddenly Saint-Maximin was doing his own swerve-and-slalom to cut in from the left before letting fly from 20 yards: the ball ricocheted off Willy Boly so Patrício was grateful to save.
Still, as the second half began the sides remained in deadlock. And the fare was back to being soporific. After Jiménez again snatched at a shot and Murphy hacked away from under Newcastle’s bar Podence was back in creator mode. This time a dip of the hips took him into yards of clear grass and he teed up Rúben Neves with precision. Yet here the midfielder became the latest to lack composure, spraying the ball wildly over.
Podence was undeterred. His feet danced again a little later inside Newcastle’s area and when he shot the ball appeared to hit the arm of Federico Fernández; Nuno appealed on the touchline yet VAR checked and ruled no penalty which seemed odd as numerous similar incidents have been penalised this season.
Soon the Newcastle bench were themselves shouting “handball ref” when an Almirón effort at Patrício’s goal pin-balled around the area but this did not interest VAR.
When Nuno took off Podence for Adama Traoré on 67 minutes this felt quaint as this removed the best performer. But now came a finish that did at least feature two goals – each of which highlighted what had previously been missing.