Rafa Benitez hails Jonjo Shelvey after he shows Newcastle what they've been missing
Rafa Benitez backed Jonjo Shelvey to make the difference in the Championship after the midfielder made a match-winning return in the FA Cup.
Newcastle United beat Birmingham City 3-1 in last night’s replay to book a fourth round trip to League One club Oxford United.
Matt Ritchie netted twice and Yoan Gouffran also scored in front of a 34,986 crowd at St James’s Park.
Shelvey, handed the captain’s armband by United manager Benitez, had a hand in all three goals on his return from a five-game ban for using racially-aggravated language.
And Benitez is looking forward to seeing him return in the league for the Championship leaders.
“It’s always important to have numbers in terms of players, but especially someone like him, that has quality, he can pass the ball, he can make the others play,” said Benitez, whose side next take on Rotherham United at St James’s Park on Saturday.
“It is another big boost for us as a team to see Jonjo controlling and dictating the tempo of the game.
“He was training really well. He was working hard in training sessions, so, in terms of his fitness, he is fine. In terms of his match fitness, he needed to play.
“Hopefully he will show in the next games how important he is for us.
“We saw his quality, his passing.
“If he can do the same in the league games, he can make others play and be the difference, too.”
Benitez was delighted with the crowd at St James’s Park for the third-round replay.
They saw the club reach the fourth round of the competition for the first time since 2012.
The league, however, remains the club’s No 1 priority.
“Our fans have been amazing during the whole season,” he said. “In the replay of the FA Cup, to have 35,000, it shows how good they are.
“If we can, we will try to give them something.
“I don’t like to lie, and I will say that we will try to use the squad, go as far as we can, but by using the squad because we have so many games in the league that it is important to have everyone available and choose the best players in every game without taking risk.
“It is always important to win any game or any competition. We will try to do it and we are happy.
“We will try to continue and carry one.
“But I don’t want to lie, we will use the squad and be sure we protect players and not have any risk.”