Newcastle United toughed it out at Rotherham on Saturday afternoon.
Whilst the likes of Paul Merson was predicting that Newcastle would win at least 4-0 against the rock bottom home side, Rafa Benitez took a more realistic approach.
Rotherham might be bottom but they had scored in every match at home so far, only losing one game in five before Newcastle visited.
As the table looked before kick-off, they had previously beaten fifth place Brentford, drawn at home to sixth place Bristol City and also Wolves – who had defeated Newcastle only a fortnight ago.
Rafa Benitez after winning 1-0 at Rotherham:
“I enjoy winning, it doesn’t matter how.
“To get three points is what you have to do.
“We can try to play nice football but sometimes it is not enough. The game plan was to work hard and do our best in terms of physicality and tempo and then after that use your quality. That is what we did.”
“It is important to win before and after the internationals as normally when you go away for a week or 10 days, if you lose it’s always worse.
“To win against Norwich and then to win against Rotherham is massive and important for the confidence of the team.”
We’ll never know what would have happened if Rafa had put out the more attacking line-up that the vast majority of fans would like to see – players such as Mitrovic, Hayden, Yedlin, Lazaar, rather than Diame, Anita, Colback and Dummett.
The only thing we do know is that the Newcastle United team Rafa Benitez DID put out, won.
Watching the game, you couldn’t honestly say Newcastle deserved to win, a draw probably the fairest result on balance. As Rafa alludes to, an extra bit of quality in the shape of Christian Atsu won it for United.
Going into this international break, the last few days have been a crucial time for Newcastle.
Yes, there was a tinge of disappointment that Saturday’s win didn’t send NUFC into this two week break on top of the table – but credit to Huddersfield and Norwich who toughed out away wins of their own, at Ipswich and Wolves respectively.
Rather than thinking Newcastle United missed out being top by any kind of a small margin, it is more realistic to think that Rafa Benitez has just pulled a couple of rabbits out of the hat, as things came very close to sending United into the break with what would have looked an uphill battle.
If Newcastle had ended up losing that Norwich game rather than rescuing it in the final seconds and only drawn against Rotherham, two very real possibilities. then just how different would this Championship table have looked.
As it stands we have Huddersfield top with 25 points, then Norwich 23 and Newcastle 22, then another three teams within two points of NUFC.
However, if it had been defeat to Norwich and a draw at Rotherham, we’d have had Norwich 26 points, Huddersfield 25 and Newcastle back in eighth on 17 points.
Taking stock now, the big positive is that obviously Newcastle are still right in the mix and having now played all the other four clubs in the top five and only one from the bottom four, the upcoming series of fixtures are there to be attacked.
There is so much more to come from the squad that Rafa Benitez has put together, Christian Atsu eventually getting a game and providing clear proof of that. In contrast, the other competing clubs at the top are having to play their best players week after week, or should that be week after midweek, as the games come so thick and fast.
As energy levels are increasingly questioned elsewhere and injuries start to hit smaller squads, the steady hand of Rafa Benitez will be pushing those small margins increasingly in our favour.
(To read the instant Newcastle fan/writer reaction to victory at Rotherham go HERE)
(To watch Christian Atsu’s stunning winner go HERE)