Michael Appleton says Oxford United’s FA Cup win over Newcastle United was the biggest victory of his managerial career.
Appleton’s side booked a place in the last 16 of the competition with a 3-0 win on Saturday.
The League One club comfortably beat a weakened Newcastle side at the Kassam Stadium.
Appleton guided Blackburn Rovers to a FA Cup win over Arsenal during his time at Ewood Park.
But he feels the home win over Benitez’s team topped that success.
“The fact they made the changes doesn’t detract from what we’ve achieved,” said Appleton, who watched Newcastle beat Birmingham in a third-round replay earlier in the month.
“Having watched the Birmingham game back, I knew the quality they’ve got.
“You only have to look at what they had on the bench. Rafa might disagree, but I think they’ve got a Premier League squad.
“If that side was plying its trade in the Premier League, in terms of the squad and what he’s got available, I do believe they would be in the top half of the Premier League.
“When they get there, I expect them to be contesting in the top half of the Premier League next season.
“For me, personally, beating Newcastle today is probably a bigger achievement than it was beating Arsenal in the fifth round at the Emirates with Blackburn, even though we’re still the only team to do it (in Arsene Wenger’s reign).”
Benitez made nine changes to his team for the fourth-round tie.
“I understand it,” said Appleton. “As a manager, there’s no doubt that you want to win every single game.
“I’ll back any manager in terms of that, and the reality is that he sent a team out there expecting to beat Oxford United.
“I will do exactly the same thing on Tuesday (in the Checkatrade Trophy), knowing I’ve got a group of players, even if there are changes, that can beat Bradford City.
“I’ve done that in all the Checkatrade Trophy games so far. You put out a side that you think can beat the side in front of you. He’s done that today, but unfortunately for them it’s not happened. We got a bit of luck when we needed it.”