Newcastle stronger than ever under Rafa Benitez – despite three successive defeats

Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez.
Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez.
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Graeme Souness once said you’re only ever two defeats away from a crisis as Newcastle United manager.

And Souness should know, as the club had a few during his tenure.

Well, the club has now lost three games.

But there’s no crisis. And no panic.

Newcastle, however, have had a challenging week or two. This Championship invariably throws up such weeks, but even Rafa Benitez couldn’t have planned for what happened to his team last week.

In the space of four days, Newcastle played 120 minutes in the EFL Cup at the KCOM Stadium (and lost on penalties) and played 45 minutes with nine men at the City Ground.

United’s players – who take on fifth-placed Birmingham City at St James’s Park tomorrow – have needed the week to recover.

Newcastle fans know their team could easily have won both games.

Against Hull City, they were the better team in the first half and in extra time.

Ultimately, a goalkeeping error and three poor penalties cost them a place in the EFL Cup’s semi-finals.

And they were dominant before Jonjo Shelvey’s first-half dismissal at City Ground.

Midfielder Shelvey dictated the game before tangling with Nottingham Forest midfielder Henri Lansbury, who would also get Paul Dummett sent off before the break.

If a week’s a long time in politics, it can be an even longer time in football.

In the space of six days, Newcastle lost three matches.

It was a difficult week, but those games won’t define United’s season.

Benitez won’t let that happen.

Come what may this season and last, there’s been a calmness about Benitez.

Newcastle’s manager wasn’t exactly serene after the club’s City Ground defeat – he was furious at the dismissals of Shelvey and Dummett – but he kept a lid on his anger. Just.

Alan Pardew would have been a bit spikier in his post-game Press conference.

Benitez, wisely, pointed the finger at Lansbury, got up and left.

Equally, Benitez didn’t get too carried away during the club’s nine-game winning run.

Neither did his players.

Time after time, they have refused to look beyond the next game this season.

They’ve been on-message off the pitch and on it when they’ve taken to the field.

United’s lead at the top of the Championship has been cut to a point by second-placed Brighton and Hove Albion.

Chris Hughton, Brighton’s manager, used to break the season down into chunks with his players and staff and set goals for each period during his time in charge at Newcastle.

It worked. The club won the Championship.

Benitez’s methods are also working.

Within a short space of time, Benitez has shaped and moulded a team capable of competing in one of football’s most unforgiving divisions.

There were questions about Benitez’s suitability to manage in the Championship before a ball was kicked this season.

There were even more questions after the club lost its opening two games this season.

Benitez didn’t panic then.

And he quickly got back to work after the Forest match.

It’s about the next game, and then the next game and then the next game.

Keep calm and carry on.