Rafa Benitez senses a big '˜opportunity' for Newcastle
Rafa Benitez feels his Newcastle United players will be ready to tackle the Championship run-in '“ after a well-earned rest.
Benitez’s side lead the division by a point after the weekend’s results.
Newcastle were frustrated not to take all three points from Birmingham City.
But the point they took from Saturday’s goalless draw at St Andrew’s, where Matt Ritchie had a goal controversially disallowed, could prove to be an important one.
Promotion rivals Brighton and Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town were beaten by Leeds United and Bristol City respectively.
While Benitez will lose a number of players, including Ritchie, to international duty, those that stay behind on Tyneside will benefit from a fortnight’s rest and recovery after a gruelling few weeks.
“It is in the international break now, and that gives us an opportunity to improve the fitness of some players,” said Benitez. “I can only see that as a positive.”
Benitez named leading scorer Dwight Gayle on his bench and started Daryl Murphy up front.
United’s manager felt that Gayle, still working his way back to full fitness following his recent injury lay-off, could have a bigger impact coming off the bench.
“We have seen how important he is to us right through the season,” said Benitez.
“We have competition up front and that can only be positive.”
Birmingham, 18th in the table, caused Newcastle problems before the break, but the visitors went on to dominate the second half, when Ritchie and Murphy were denied by Tomasz Kuszczak.
And Benitez knows every team will raise their game for United between now and the end of the campaign.
“We know that is going to happen, and I expect it will be like that until the end of the season,” said Benitez.
“We have to manage those kind of situations, and to be fair we have done that right through the season.
“We have won games like this.
“OK, we have only drawn, but I don’t think we could have put much more effort in.
“We tried to play with the kind of game intelligence you need to break down these kind of teams.”
The fact that Newcastle – who won just two away games in the Premier League last season – were expected to win shows just how far the team has come under Benitez, who took over just over a year ago.
“I have had this quite a few times,” said Benitez, whose side have won a record-equalling 13 away games this term.
“But it is difficult for some people to understand that it is not easy to win every game.
“It’s difficult for us,or maybe for some players that we have to realise that we have to stay calm and do the right things.
“It is not about discipline, it is more about an understanding of the games and the different situations.
“I was telling my defenders with five minutes to go ‘OK, it is the 85th minute, if we cannot score then at least make sure we do not concede’.
“They then have to manage that situation and work with the players in front of them to make sure they can control things.”
Benitez was adamant that Ritchie’s strike in the 40th minute should not have been disallowed for offside.
“We had a goal, and I have seen the replay, disallowed when it should have been a goal,” he said.
“We were doing really well “They had a couple of counter attacks that could have been dangerous for us
“And when they are in a difficult position you can understand why it is hard for them tio play in the way they want to play, but we did what we had to do.
“We controlled the game little by little and created chances, but we weren’t able to take them because their keeper did well. It’s one more point though, and one less game.”