Rafa Benitez explains why he left Matt Ritchie on Newcastle's bench

Christian Atsu
Christian Atsu

Rafa Benitez has explained his surprise decision to leave Matt Ritchie on Newcastle United's bench at the New York Stadium.

Benitez fielded Christian Atsu on the right wing against Rotherham United on Saturday – and the ploy worked.

A stunning first-half goal from Atsu on his full Championship debut gave Newcastle a 1-0 win over Alan Stubbs' spirited side.

Atsu, 24, joined Newcastle from Chelsea late in the summer transfer window, and manager Benitez felt the time was right to hand him his first start for the club.

READ MORE: Newcastle’s Christian Atsu reveals what Matt Ritchie said to him after taking his place at Rotherham

"We know that it's not easy when you are coming late and you have to adapt to a team," Benitez told BBC Radio Newcastle. "Everything is new.

"I'm really pleased. He was training well.

"We had to decide to leave Ritchie – who is a great player – and play Christian.

"The staff realised it was the right time to play him against a full-back, isolated one-v-one. It could be a good situation for us.

"In the end, it was a fantastic situation for us."

After the game, Atsu told of his joy at his goal – and the club's win.

In-form Ritchie came off the bench in the second half as Newcastle battled to retain their one-goal advantage.