Rafa Benitez reveals the BIG lesson Newcastle learnt against Cardiff
Rafa Benitez feels Newcastle United are equipped to deal with everything that's thrown at them '“ quite literally '“ in the Championship.
Benitez’s side overcame Cardiff City 2-1 on Saturday to record an eighth successive win and maintain their three-point advantage over second-placed Brighton and Hove Albion, who beat Bristol City 2-0 at Ashton Gate.
Just as importantly, United are also eight points clear of Huddersfield Town, in third, going into the international break.
Newcastle return to Championship action on November 20 when they take on Leeds United at a sold-out Elland Road in a competitive game for the first time in more than 13 years.
Asked if the pressure was now on the club’s league rivals, United manager Benitez said: “I don’t know if there’s that pressure on other teams.
“Like us, they’ll go into the break trying to analyse their position.
“But I don’t think they’ll be too worried whether we’re seven or eight points clear. Their focus is to win games every week.”
Newcastle took a third-minute lead against Cardiff through a Christian Atsu goal.
Yoan Gouffran doubled the lead against Neil Warnock’s side before the break, but United couldn’t score what would have been a decisive third goal in the second half.
And Cardiff made life uncomfortable for the home side with a series of long balls and throw-ins.
Visiting substitute Peter Whittingham set up a nervous finale in front of a 51,257 crowd at St James’s Park.
Benitez felt it was a game of two halves for Newcastle, who got bogged down and lost their way after the break.
“The second half sticks in the memory more, but in the first half, we played well and we had the control and the chances,” said Benitez.
“We started the second half the same way and had one or two chances where we could finish the game.”
Atsu had a shot deflected over the bar early in the second half before United got pegged back.
Benitez added: “The game could have been finished before their goal.
“But we didn’t play at the level we wanted to play in the second half.
“Sometimes you have to give credit to the other team. They were a physical team, with long throw-ins and free-kicks.
“They had big lads and you have to defend well and show character.
“Could it be better? Yes. But when you’re winning and show the mentality that you need in the Championship, that’s good.”
Benitez felt the game was typical of the Championship given the balls his team had to deal with.
“In the Premier League now, you have more passing football and players with more quality on the ball,” he said. “Games in the Championship sometimes are just long throw-ins and free-kicks, because you now you can challenge and the ball will be there and it’s 50-50.
“When you have towering centre-backs you have to have players strong enough and as big as them and still sometimes you can’t win those challenges.
“The coach has to adapt like the players do. I’ve had it for a while, playing against Bolton and Blackburn, all these, although I never played against Wimbledon. It’s a challenge we face more often, for sure.
“We don’t win games against Preston or Bristol City without competing. We know we have to defend well.
“Everyone knows when you’re 2-0 up you need to score that third goal to kill a team off.
“We tried. We did really well, but just couldn’t do it.
“In the end, you have to ensure we have the quality and mentality to defend and get the three points.
“It’s better that you can learn your lessons in a winning situation. It’s always easier to learn when you’re winning.”