Rafa Benitez explains his decision to switch Newcastle’s formation

Rafa Benitez.
Rafa Benitez.

Rafa Benitez admitted his players simply didn’t have the legs to get Newcastle United into the FA Cup’s fourth round at the first attempt.

Benitez’s side were held to a 1-1 draw at St Andrew’s by Birmingham City on Saturday.

I think it was fine. It was fine for 30 minutes, and after we needed a little bit more control, but maybe we didn’t have the legs to cope with the pace of the game.

Rafa Benitez

Lukas Jukiewicz cancelled out Daryl Murphy’s early opener with a goal three minutes before the break.

Newcastle, two points behind Championship leaders Brighton and Hove Albion, must now contend with an unwelcome replay at St James’s Park on January 18.

United manager Benitez switched to a 3-5-2 formation for the game, though he was forced into an tactical change when Aleksandar Mitrovic was forced off with a deep cut to his leg suffered as Murphy netted his first goal for the club.

Benitez made eight changes for the third-round tie.

Massadio Haidara made his first game for the club since October 2015, while Cheick Tiote made only his second appearance of the campaign.

Achraf Lazaar and Grant Hanley were also handed rare starts.

“I was a little bit disappointed,” said Benitez.

“Not because of the formation, but because we were trying to play with two strikers and we lost one after just a few minutes, so we had to change things in the game.

“We wanted to manage in a way that was more similar to what we were trying to do and get more from it.

“But in terms of the defence and the midfielders, I was trying to protect some players who were not playing too much to be sure we have numbers there.

“I think it was fine. It was fine for 30 minutes, and after we needed a little bit more control, but maybe we didn’t have the legs to cope with the pace of the game.

“In possession, we could maybe do a little bit better. We gave the ball away too much, and so we had to defend a lot.

“I was happy with a lot of things, but we can improve the understanding.

“We can improve some obvious things.”

Yoan Gouffran came on for the injured Mitrovic, who was given oxygen as he was stretchered off the field.

“He likes to play there,” said Benitez. “I was talking to him about that.

“It was a different approach with Mitrovic. We had an idea with Mitrovic and Murphy, but with Gouff it was different.

“He had one or two chances. He did well, but in the end for us it meant we had one substitution already and it was hard to manage the physical condition of some players who needed to be changed or substituted to give fresh legs to the team.

“We couldn’t do that.”

United’s Championship game against Brentford has been brought forward to Saturday to accommodate the replay.

“We knew before that the worst thing could be to play another game,” said Benitez.

“But, OK, it’s what we have, and we have to try to manage properly.

“We must try to win, and manage it properly, but make sure we don’t lose focus on the league.”

Benitez believes Murphy and his other fringes players will have benefitted from the game.

“It’s important for players without minutes to play another game,” said Benitez.

“It can help some of them to be better, to be fit for the rest of the season and to use them.

“On the other hand, it’s bad news because we have to play more games, use more players and that always creates more risk.”

On using Lazaar as a wing-back, Benitez added: “He can be fine in this position.”