Rafa Benitez feels his players learnt a hard lesson from Newcastle United’s defeat to Blackburn Rovers – as too many had been expecting an “easy game”, writes Miles Starforth.
A second-half goal from Charlie Mulgrew condemned Benitez’s side to a 1-0 Championship defeat on Saturday.
The result at St James’s Park ended a remarkable run of nine successive victories and saw Brighton and Hove Albion close the gap on the league leaders to two points.
Newcastle had been odds-on favourites to record a historic 10th victory, but third-bottom Blackburn deserved the three points.
And United manager Benitez – who made six changes to his starting XI – was disappointed with his team’s performance and the way David Coote refereed a game punctuated by stoppages and free-kicks.
“I think in the first half some of the players maybe were expecting an easy game and were surprised, but it wasn’t and we knew that,” said Benitez.
“But then after, once you’ve gone in at half-time, then you are fixing things and in the first 15 minutes of the second half we were creating chances and we were on top of them.
“Also we were talking about not making mistakes, because they will look for set-pieces, for long balls and second balls and see what happens.
“In the end, that’s what happens, so we were talking about that and we have to be careful with that, but we got it wrong.”
Newcastle have the chance to put the defeat behind them tomorrow night when they take on Hull City in an EFL Cup quarter-final tie at the KCOM Stadium.
Benitez, however, was adamant that the changes he made to his team for the Blackburn game were NOT with the cup in mind.
“Obviously, if you change players then people will say ‘oh, you are just thinking about the cup’,” he said.
“No, I was thinking about winning against Blackburn and then to approach the other one with the same mentality.
“We had been changing players and we were doing the same.
“We didn’t show the character and quality we normally show though. We have to learn and quickly change things and be ready for the next game. It is an opportunity to get into the next round.”
Benitez surprisingly left captain Jamaal Lascelles and top scorer Dwight Gayle on the bench and recalled Chancel Mbemba and Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Asked about his team selection, Benitez said: “We were thinking that for this game maybe Mitro could be a good option with Ayoze (Perez) in behind, (Christian) Atsu in the wide areas along with (Matt) Ritchie and Mbemba at centre-back.
“It’s not that you are preserving some players because of the Hull game, it’s just that we thought these players could win this game.”