Norwich City boss Alex Neil was left devastated as the Canaries blew a 3-2 stoppage-time lead to go down 4-3 in a sensational finish at Newcastle United last night.
The Carrow Road side, 3-1 up at one point, looked certain to return to the top of the Championship with victory at St James’s Park.
But Yoan Gouffran and Dwight Gayle, completing his hat-trick, steered the Magpies to a remarkable victory, which took them up to third place.
“It was absolutely unbelievable,” Neil admitted.
“In stoppage time, for the first three minutes we were fine, we cleared our lines and we won our headers, and they didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.
“There was 90 seconds left and we were winning 3-2, but we don’t defend our box well enough. They score, and then it was a straight ball down the middle of the park.
“All we needed to do was clear our lines, but we don’t. It dropped to Gayle and he sticks it in the net, and it was so frustrating because we had done enough to win the game.”
Neil believes his side had done enough to win the game after going 3-1 up.
He said of his players, on Norwich City TV: “They worked as hard as you could possibly as them to work. I can’t say anything negative about them, apart from the fact that we didn’t defend our box well enough.”
Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez hailed summer signing Gayle, whose winner came six minutes into added time.
“I said the other day that against Aston Villa, he had one or two clear chances and things could have been different,” said Benitez.
“Every striker will have those situations, and I will always try to give confidence to a striker as long as he continues working.
“It is not just about scoring goals. He has been working hard – he had chances in the first half – and then his goals came in the second half. I’m really pleased for him, and really pleased for the team.”
Newcastle are now three points behind leaders Huddersfield Town ahead of Saturday’s game at Rotherham.
“You never know how important this could be,” said Benitez.
“It is still early, but if you win and you win in this way, it is a boost for everyone.”
Gayle tapped home Matt Ritchie’s near-posr cross for the 24th-minute opener, but Graham Dorrans equalised from the penalty spot, after Gouffran’s clumsy challenge on Ro0bbie Brady.
Cameron Jerome’s stunning strike, curling a right-foot effort across recalled keeper Karl Darlow, and Jacob Murphy’s deflected strike made it 3-1 to the visitors.
But Gayle pulled one back almost immediately, running onto Jonjo Shelvey’s long ball and beating Michael McGovern, and Gouffran levelled in the fifth-minute of stoppage time, heading home DeAndre Yedlin’s cross.
But there was more drama to come and when the ball broke to Gayle in the dying seconds, his finish was unerring.
Benitez told of his pride after the comeback.
“I am the kind of manager who gets excited inside,” said Benitez, whose team climbed up to third place in the Championship after the result.
“When I see the team reacting, I am really proud of them. Some people will jump or run, I am happy inside.
“It is something that is difficult to achieve when you have a group of players who have to really come through in these circumstances. They are working so hard and doing so well.”
Newcastle: Darlow, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett (Atsu 90), Ritchie, Shelvey, Colback (Hayden 71), Gouffran, Diame (Mitrovic 71), Gayle. Subs not used: Lazaar, Perez, Mbemba, Sels. Booked: Colback, Ritchie, Dummett, Mitrovic, Lascelles. Goals: Gayle 24, 71, 90, Gouffran 90.
Norwich: McGovern, Pinto, Martin, Bassong, Olsson, Tettey, Dorrans, Jacob Murphy (Bennett 79), Howson, Brady, Jerome (Oliveira 86). Subs not used: Ruddy, Naismith, Hoolahan, Josh Murphy, Thompson. Booked: Brady, Howson, Dorrans, Olsson, Jerome. Goals: Dorrans 44, Jerome 52, Jacob Murphy 69
Ref: Peter Bankes (Merseyside)