Eddie Howe believes Newcastle’s late win at Nottingham Forest could be a defining moment in his side’s pursuit of Champions League football next season.
Alexander Isak struck a stoppage-time penalty to earn a 2-1 victory which sees them move to within a point of fourth-placed Tottenham with a game in hand.
Forest had gone ahead in the 26th minute through Emmanuel Dennis’ first goal for the club, but Isak levelled in superb fashion on the stroke of half-time when he volleyed home.
A second half of frustration unfolded for Howe’s side as they searched for a winner, not least when they had a goal controversially ruled out by VAR.
But Isak had the final say from the spot after Moussa Niakhate’s handball to keep the dream of a top-four finish firmly alive, building on last weekend’s win over Wolves.
“Back-to-back wins, consecutive wins are hugely important in this division,” Howe said. “The quality of the teams, the strength of the opponent (it) is so difficult to do.
“A big moment in our season and we managed to dig deep and find a winner.
“We went through a run of games around the cup final that were tough games, playing top opposition. Unfortunately we got beaten three times and it was a real test of our character how we responded to that.
“Full credit to the players, it was a huge win.”
The points might have been wrapped up before injury time had Elliot Anderson’s goal not been ruled out for offside during the build-up, a decision which left Howe with “no idea” what was going on.
“I was surprised to see the referee go over to the VAR screen and make that decision and that call.
“But it was what it was and the big thing is the players responded from that really well.”
There was some bad news for the Magpies, though, as Miguel Almiron has been ruled out for six weeks with a thigh injury picked up in training.
Forest also had issue with referee Paul Tierney and it is understood that the club’s owners were furious with the official’s performance.
The main point of contention was Tierney’s decision not to award a free-kick in the build-up to Isak’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
Boss Steve Cooper, who was called into Tierney’s dressing room at half-time along with Newcastle assistant manager Jason Tindall, said: “I won’t dwell on the fact too much, but it’s a foul on Andre (Ayew) in the build-up.
Former Newcastle midfielder Jonjo Shelvey suggested his old team-mates might have influenced the referee.
“I didn’t think they’d whinge as much as they did on the pitch, to be honest,” he told Sky Sports.
“There’s a lot of whinge bags in their team to be fair and I’ll tell them that now, in a jokey way.
“But I hope they get into Europe, I’ve got nothing but positive words to say about the whole club, the people there, the staff there…I made a lot of friends and I’m happy for them to keep pushing up the league.
“But I represent this club now. As soon as I go over the white line I’m there to win. We didn’t do that today, but we’ll come again.”