Newcastle United winger reveals how he reacted to being left out by Rafa Benitez

Christian Atsu, right, celebrates his goal.
Christian Atsu, right, celebrates his goal.

Christian Atsu was happy to end an 18-month goal drought at St James’s Park – but disappointed to be on the losing side.

Atsu netted in Newcastle United’s 3-2 defeat to Liverpool on Saturday.

It was only Atsu’s second top-flight goal at St James’s Park, with his previous strike at the stadium having come in September 2017.

Atsu netted his eighth career goal for the club after a shot Salomon Rondon was handled on the line.

The 27-year-old had found his opportunities limited by the arrival of Miguel Almiron in January’s transfer window.

And Atsu was pleased to belatedly get off the mark.

The winger told the Gazette: “I’m very happy to score, most important for it to be at home at St James’s Park in front of these fans.

“I haven’t been playing, but I was really working hard so that when I got my chance I could give everything for the club, so I’m very happy that I scored.”

Matt Ritchie delivered a low ball in from the left for Rondon, whose shot was handled by Trent Alexandar-Arnold.

And Atsu was in the right place, at the right time after referee Andre Marriner didn’t penalise the handball.

“I saw it, and I thought it was a penalty, because it hit his hand, but the referee didn’t whistle, so when it came in front of me, I hit it,” said the Ghana international.

“I’m always in front of the 18-yard box, trying to find a loose ball – and, against Liverpool, it dropped for me and thankfully I took it.

“It was an important goal, and we grew in confidence after that.”

The strike cancelled out Virgil van Dyke’s opener, and Rondon equalised again for United after Mohamed Salah scored.

Divock Origi netted a controversial late winner from a disputed free-kick.

The result left the club 14th in the Premier League table ahead of Sunday’s final game of the season against Fulham at Craven Cottage.

“I will say that we’re very disappointed, because to come back from 1-0 and 2-1 against this team who are fighting for the title, to equalise against them, we did really well, but we should have got at least a point, if not win it,” said Atsu, signed from Chelsea on a permanent deal two years ago.

“At the end of the game, perhaps they were better than us, because they found a way to win.”

Rafa Benitez was pleased with the character his team showed against title-chasing Liverpool.

“We have a great mentality, and we believe as a squad,” said Atsu, who returned to Benitez’s starting XI after Almiron suffered a season-ending hamstring injury.

“Rafa also says to us that he doesn’t want to see any player putting his head down when a team scores against us.

“The manager’s always encouraging us, and, when they scored, you can see everyone encouraging each other.

“The team spirit we have is very strong – we work hard on that – and we kept on fighting, and we had some great chances that we could have taken, but we were unlucky.”

Meanwhile, Benitez, United’s manager, paid tribute to Liverpool – and the way his team coped with them – after the game.

“It’s difficult to say what they don’t have – they have everything,” said Benitez.

“Starting with the keeper and finishing with the striker, they have pace, they’re strong, they’re good in the air, they’re good at set-pieces – everything. To manage them like we did, we’re really pleased.

“We did quite well. When we conceded the third goal, we were in control. They were not a threat. They didn’t have clear chances. They have to create, for sure, because they are very good in attack.

“Atsu played really well. Maybe we need a couple of players, because sometimes you need fresh legs on the pitch to make a difference.”

Asked to compare them to defending Premier League champions Manchester City, Benitez added: “Very similar.

“The difference here is that (Liverpool) are physically stronger. They like the contact. Maybe Manchester City have more possession, they move the ball.”