Miles Starforth’s match analysis: Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 Newcastle United 1

Newcastle United's Jamaal Lascelles heads the ball towards goal.
Newcastle United's Jamaal Lascelles heads the ball towards goal.

An 11th away win on the 11th day of February.

That’s a remarkable record at any level.

Away victories have almost become routine for Newcastle United in the Championship.

But this 1-0 win felt difficult.

It was awkward, uncomfortable and maybe a little fortuitous.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, on another day, would have been sent off before he scored what turned out to be the winning goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday.

But they did it. They got another three points.

The significance of the result, not the performance, wasn’t lost on the club’s 4,200 travelling fans at a freezing Molineux.

Tucked into one corner of the Stan Cullis Stand, and spread along the lower tier of the Steve Bull Stand, they celebrated long after the final whistle.

“Don’t take me home”, they sang as the players acknowledged the support they had got.

Yet Newcastle had been nowhere near their best.

This wasn’t much of a spectacle for those watching on TV at home.

Rafa Benitez’s team laboured and plodded on a sodden pitch.

United missed the pace of Dwight Gale, and Jonjo Shelvey didn’t have too many options when he took the ball in midfield.

Shelvey’s every touch was booed by Wolves fans given that he had been found to have used racially-aggravated language towards Romain Saiss the last time the two clubs met in the league back in September.

But by the end of the first half Aleksandar Mitrovic was equally unpopular with the home fans inside Molineux.

The first half was punctuated by a series of incidents involving Mitrovic, booked for an early challenge on Richard Stearman, who should have put Wolves ahead in the 25th minute.

Mitrovic, preferred up front to Daryl Murphy in the absence of Gayle, went in high on goalkeeper Carl Ikeme two minutes after Stearman put his chance over Karl Darlow’s goal.

Both players needed treatment. When Mitrovic was eventually helped up, referee Craig Pawson didn’t show him a second yellow card.

That proved to be a decisive moment.

A minute before the break, Mitrovic prodded the ball home from six yards. Mohamed Diame had had a shot from a Shelvey free-kick blocked.

Recalled captain Jamaal Lascelles had a touch before Mitrovic swept the ball home to score his sixth goal of the season.

United manager Benitez very rarely makes a change at the interval.

But few inside Molineux were surprised when Mitrovic didn’t emerge from the tunnel for the second half.

If he wasn’t going to get taken off, he would have been sent off.

Mitrovic – whose discipline has long been a concern – normally plays on the edge.

But this was too close for comfort for Benitez, who said after the match that he needed to “protect” Mitrovic – and his team.

The second half was a non-event. Wolves just didn’t look like scoring.

Lascelles and Ciaran Clark ably dealt with everything that came their way, while the pace of substitute Christian Atsu troubled Wolves at the other end of the pitch.

And that was that. Another away win. Another clean sheet. And another three points.

Brighton and Hove Albion had beaten Burton Albion 4-1 earlier in the day to briefly lead the Championship.

Third-placed Huddersfield Town also won, while Leeds United were beaten and Reading dropped two points at home.

It was a good weekend for Newcastle, who take on Norwich City at Carrow Road tomorrow night.

United are just two away wins from the record of 13 set by the club in the 1992-93 campaign, when Kevin Keegan guided the team to the title.

Keegan had a buccaneering team that season.

But it’s hard to be buccaneering in February. Not now. Not in a league where the prize is a £100million-plus TV windfall.

The league is physically tougher, and more demanding, 24 years on, and while Wolves lacked a cutting edge, this was still a tough, tough game.

Norwich could be just as tough.

Newcastle, often at their best playing a counter-attacking game away from home, missed Gayle at Molineux, and they could again be without him at Carrow Road.

But they found a way to win.

Newcastle had been fortunate that Mitrovic had stayed on the pitch long enough to score what turned out to be the only goal of the game.

But, yet again, United made their own luck.

Newcastle need around 25 more points from their remaining 16 games to ensure promotion back to the Premier League.

On this evidence, they’ll find a way to get those points.