Rafa Benitez gives his verdict on Newcastle's three FA Cup debutants
Rafa Benitez felt Newcastle United's three debutants played their part in the club's FA Cup win over Birmingham City.
Benitez handed starts to Yasin Ben El-Mhanni, Stuart Findlay and Dan Barlaser in last night’s third-round replay at St James’s Park.
And Findlay and Barlaser played the full 90 minutes of the tie, which Newcastle won 3-1 thanks to two goals from Matt Ritchie and a strike from Yoan Gouffran.
It was the trio’s first taste of competitive senior football.
Injury-hit Benitez – who made eight changes to his starting XI – felt El-Mhanni, Findlay and Barlaser acquitted themselves well in front of a 34,896 crowd.
It was an extra special night for midfielder Barlaser, who was also celebrating his 20th birthday.
“The happiest one will be Barlaser, because it’s his birthday,” said United manager Benitez. “I’m sure he’ll remember it for the rest of his life.
“It’s not easy when you have young players. We were training with them for three or four days.
“It’s important just to work hard and try to give everything. I think the three of them were working hard and trying. They are part of this team that won.”
Benitez feels their involvement will have given Newcastle’s Academy a lift.
“It’s important for them, but also for the Academy players and for all the staff, that they see some players in the first team,” said Benitez. “It was a good boost for the young players and all of the academy system.”
Benitez made so many changes because he couldn’t risk losing any more players to injury ahead of Saturday’s Championship game at home to Rotherham United.
“We knew we had to make changes because we’ve got so many games, we’ve had injuries, and got players away at the Africa Nations Cup,” said Benitez.
“We had to use the squad. I said it was important to win, but using the squad and not taking too many risks with some players.”
Benitez hopes he will be able to field a stronger starting XI in the club’s fourth-round tie away to mid-table League One side Oxford United on January 28.
“I can see us going for the next game against Oxford, trying to do well,” said Benitez. “But the cup competition in England is always difficult.
“When you play against any team against this stage of the competition, it has to be difficult. But hopefully we will have more bodies.”