If the unfortunate Steve McClaren had just lost 1-0 at Leicester, the post-match interview comments would have gone something like this.
“Oh I’m pleased. Look at the commitment, the fight, and the effort. I thought we deserved something out of the game.
“I mean, their lad was offside for their goal and we had a stone wall penalty claim too.
“So I feel sorry for the lads in the dressing room because they deserved more than this. But we’ll take the positives, move forward with the little matter of the derby next week.”
I don’t think I’ve been unfair there and I am NOT making fun of Steve McClaren either. I think that’s where HE would have believed we are. I think he would believe the lad was offside (he wasn’t) and it was far from the stonewall penalty he would have claimed.
But if any of you have read Rafa Benitez’s comments after the match, or saw him on Sky, you could be forgiven for thinking it was the same sentiments with different words and a distinctly different accent.
First: he said he wouldn’t discuss the “offside” or the “penalty”. “These things are gone now.”
And ok, Benitez said he wanted to stress the positives (said it several times, actually) and yes, he said he thought we deserved to get something out of the match. Same as Steve would have done, then.
NO: What Benitiez said repeatedly was that there were things that needed FIXING. “Little things we can fix”. He said it over and over.
McClaren NEVER said there were things that needed fixing. I can’t remember him going there – admitting there were fixable problems – in any interview.
And THAT is the huge difference between the two managers.
Ok, so McClaren would often say the players “just need a little confidence”, and Rafa said after last night’s match too.
But I don’t think that was one of the “little things he can fix”.
Jamie Carragher, at half time, pointed to the difference in the way Benitez set the team out, making it compact, reducing the gaps between the lines, keeping the forwards in touch with the defence.
It was a small change, but a very effective one and made in only three training sessions.
We got undone when Janmaat got caught upfield and the midfield did not fill the gap he left quickly enough. And when Colback fouled in a safe place where there was no danger. And when Steven Taylor stood off instead of tackling. Not tactical errors. Player mistakes.
So I am cautiously optimistic about our survival now. If we beat the Mackems (which we can, now) and Norwich, we’ll probably stay up.
It will be down to what Rafa can fix, and how quickly. He has made a very good start.
You can follow John on Twitter @JOHNDLEWIS54