Why Rafa Benitez's online critics need to trust Newcastle's manager
Sat in a half-empty auditorium after Newcastle United’s defeat to Blackburn Rovers, Benitez was struggling to come to terms with what he had just seen.
Charlie Mulgrew had scored the only goal of the game to claim all three points for the home side.
“We had so many chances to score one goal, and they game could change,” said Benitez, whose side now trail Championship leaders Brighton and Hove Albion by two points.
“We had everything under control. We had to take a chance to change the game. That is football.
“The positive thing is that we did really well. The negative thing is that we didn’t get the three points.”
There wasn’t such a positive spin online in the hours after the club’s seventh league defeat of the season.
I posted a brief tweet after Benitez’s post-match Press conference.
It read: “Rafa Benitez said the defeat was ‘difficult to explain’.”
Some supporters found it easier to explain than Benitez.
The name of Jack Colback – whose foul led to Mulgrew’s free-kick – came up. A lot.
So did Benitez’s substitutions and tactics, which were labelled “negative” and “predictable”.
Was it an overreaction? Some other supporters thought so.
History tells us a Championship team with 52 points at the turn of the year invariably gets promoted.
And the club’s away record is comfortably the best in the Championship.
What is unique about United this season is that the club has only draw one game. Just one.
Newcastle only lost four games in their last promotion season in 2009-10. But, crucially, they drew 12.
United are more or less where they were seven years ago under the guidance of Chris Hughton, now in charge of Brighton.
But the online criticism of Benitez, in particular, on social media after the Blackburn game was startling given the way he has been supported offline.
Benitez had surprised fans before the game by leaving Aleksandar Mitrovic on Tyneside.
Many supporters want to see Mitrovic AND Gayle in the starting XI.
That doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon.
Benitez – who likes having an extra midfielder – has a system at Newcastle.
And, for the most part, it’s worked.
But things haven’t worked nearly as well without Jonjo Shelvey, now three games into a five-match suspension for racially abusing an opponent.
Benitez doesn’t have another Shelvey. Or anyone remotely like him.
And Newcastle’s manager knew long before his ban that he needed more creativity in midfield.
The departures of Mohamed Diame and Christian Atsu to the African Cup of Nations have further weakened his hand ahead of tomorrow’s FA Cup tie against Birmingham City at St Andrew’s.
Benitez would like a new face at the club by the time his team resumes its Championship campaign with a game against Brentford on January 16.
But Benitez, keen to manage expectations, has repeatedly warned that it won’t be easy to strengthen his squad.
He might have to make do for a little longer.
This was ALWAYS going to be a difficult month. And it got so much harder when Shelvey was banned.