Miles Starforth's match analysis: Newcastle United 1 Watford 0
It wasn't looking good for Newcastle United before the game.
And the outlook didn’t look any better when Jonjo Shelvey limped off the field at St James’s Park.
Rafa Benitez had already lost Jamaal Lascelles and Yoshinori Muto to injuries when Shelvey pulled up early in the second half.
If Benitez’s team were going to get a first win, they were going to do it the hard way.
It was hard. And it won’t get any easier for the club, which beat Watford 1-0 thanks to a second-half goal from Ayoze Perez, who had been left out of the starting XI by Benitez.
United’s manager – whose side had failed to win any of their first 10 games – had been dusting off old coaching notebooks in recent weeks.
Benitez had been looking at every small detail of what he and his staff had been doing.
There’d also been meetings with players at the club’s training ground.
The conclusion? They were doing the right things.
And what the team really needed was some luck. They got that against Watford, who should have led by the break.
Lascelles, making his 100th start for the club, stopped an Adrian Mariappa shot on the line, and the visiting defender should have scored with a follow-up effort.
Gerard Deulofeu also put a shot wide in the first half.
Then came the injuries – Perez, Fabian Schar and Ki Sung-yueng were sent on by Benitez – and those three players steadied the team.
Ki, making only his fourth league appearance for the club, controlled the midfield and delivered the free-kick for Perez’s winner.
The goal, Perez’s first of the season, lifted the roof at St James’s Park, where the relief was palpable.
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Newcastle just had to survive another 25 minutes – and a lengthy period of added time.
Schar, commanding at the back alongside Federico Fernandez, helped turn defence into attack.
Then there was a goal-saving challenge from Kenedy, who tracked back and slid in to deny Andre Gray.
The contributions of Perez, Ki and Schar off the bench underlined a pre-match message from Benitez, who has to find solutions to problems from within the four walls of the dressing room, at least until the January transfer window opens.
He has what he has – and he must coax and cajole performances out of them collectively and individually.
Benitez said: “What do we have? Eleven players on the pitch and a squad on the bench.
“A manager can make a mistake with a substitution or selection, but we have what we have.
“Because of that, you have to support your family, this is our family. We have to support everyone – from the first minute to the last.”
United fans did just that and backed their team.
Lascelles had also pleaded for “unity” after signing a new six-year deal, though that message was partly lost in the furore over his comments about owner Mike Ashley, who was at St James’s Park.
There was a protest against Ashley after the game outside the Milburn Stand.
There are more protests planned, but supporters showed it’s possible to back the team and demonstrate against Ashley.
Speaking after the game, Benitez said the win could be “massive”.
“If we can carry on winning games, it will have been massive,” he said.
And that’s it. Newcastle must carry on.