Analysis: Newcastle show how to stand up to foul-mouthed Neil Warnock and his physical Cardiff side

Rafa Benitez and Neil Warnock
Rafa Benitez and Neil Warnock
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And so it goes on. Another week, another win.

Newcastle United fans are getting used to winning again under Rafa Benitez.

Remember a banner held up in the away end at the Liberty Stadium just over two years ago?

Angry at a dismal year on the field under then manager Alan Pardew, supporters raised the banner before a game against Swansea City.

It read: “LLWDLLLWWLWLLLLLLLLWLLDDLD. Not a Welsh town. Our record in 2014.”

Newcastle’s form in all competitions this season – LLWWWWWWLWDWWWWWWWW – doesn’t look so much like a Welsh Town.

Aleksandar Mitrovic and Cardiff City's Sol Bamba battle for the ball

Aleksandar Mitrovic and Cardiff City's Sol Bamba battle for the ball

Saturday’s 2-1 win over Cardiff City was the club’s seventh successive win in the Championship.

It’s been remarkable. Even incredible.

But those wins don’t tell the whole story. It’s been tough, very tough.

Yet United – who lead the Championship by three points – have been battle-hardened enough to win all but four of their games this season.

The Cardiff game, like so many before it, turned out to be tough.

There were no bonfire night fireworks on the pitch.

And there was little sparkle on a cold wet afternoon at St James’s Park.

And Benitez was frustrated that his team – who led 2-0 at the break – hadn’t been able to get what would have proved a decisive third goal when they were on top in front of a near-capacity 51,257 crowd.

Christian Atsu, scorer of Newcastle’s early opening goal, had a shot deflected over the bar after the interval.

As it was, they went on to lose their way in the second half and visiting substitute set up another nervous finale with a 77th-minute goal.

United, however, saw the game out, just as they had done at Deepdale a week earlier. And just has they have done many times already this season.

Yet just under two thirds of the season is still left to play. There’s a long, long way to go.

But Newcastle look well-equipped for the challenges ahead.

Already, United and second-placed Brighton and Hove Albion look a class above the rest of the teams in the league.

Benitez’s team can scrap when they have to, and they had to do that against Cardiff.

Newcastle know if they can match a team physically, they have players who can make the difference in the final third of the pitch.

It had all been going so well for United.

Newcastle took the game to their visitors and led through a third-minute goal from Atsu.

Atsu was unselfishly teed up by Aleksandar Mitrovic, who did the hard work in the box before rolling the ball to the winger, handed a welcome start in the absence of the suspended Matt Ritchie.

United moved the ball well in the opening period against a physically-strong team which was weak in possession.

Defender Paul Dummett forced a fine near-post save from goalkeeper Ben Amos in the 17th minute after being played in by Ayoze Perez, who played with intelligence and intensity after being selected ahead of Mohamed Diame in the No 10 role.

But the second goal didn’t come until the 45th minute when DeAndre Yedlin, again preferred to Vurnon Anita at right-back, played in Yoan Gouffran, who beat Amos with a right-footed finish.

Newcastle, however, lost their momentum after the break.

And Neil Warnock’s Cardiff gained impetus as their foul-mouthed manager contested every decision from the visiting dugout.

Hartlepool-based referee Tony Harrington had angered both managers before the break.

Warnock should have had no complaints about some of the decisions that went against his team, yet he harangued the fourth official for much of the second half.

His team succeeded in unsettling United with a series of long balls and throw-ins, and substitute Peter Whittingham set up an anxious last period with a well-taken 77th-minute goal which came from a long throw-in.

Benitez sent on Anita and Diame to try and liven United up, but 11-goal Dwight Gayle – fit again after a hamstring strain – stayed on the bench.

Gayle had to kick every ball from the sidelines as Cardiff steadily grew in confidence.

Harrington incensed Warnock by failing to award a penalty after Sean Morrison, challenged by Aleksandar Mitrovic, went down in the box late in the game.

The referee penalised Morrison for the coming together.

Warnock labelled it a “nailed-on penalty”. For once, he had a point.

But Cardiff, like so many teams before them, left St James’s Park without a point.

Those players not on international duty will be given a long weekend off by Benitez, though he was keen to stress it was “not a reward”.

Watching Newcastle this season, however, has been far more rewarding for the a fanbase which, a couple of years ago, was sick of defeat after defeat.