Rafa Benitez was more than happy to bank his seventh point from a possible nine, in a period of three away games against teams at the top, that had threatened to blow the automatic promotion places wide open.
Instead, Newcastle United have emerged three points clear at the top (and a superior goal difference – 11 better off than Brighton and a massive 33 goals advantage over David Wagner’s team) and nine points ahead of third, though Huddersfield have a game in hand.
Looking back at a mad seven day stretch of games away from home, the United boss said ‘Before these three games, to think of getting seven points – you have to be satisfied.’
Asked what he thought about Newcastle’s first goalless draw of this league season at the 36th attempt, Rafa Benitez admitted he hadn’t realised that was the case and it was an ‘interesting’ stat.
Also interesting for us that a Manager who is so meticulous about his planning and strategy hadn’t realised!
In a full year of matches (Saturday against Fulham comes exactly 365 days after he was unveiled as Newcastle Manager), there has been only one other 0-0 draw, that being the game at Villa Park last season. Although the League Cup quarter-final at Hull was also goalless at 90 minutes, then 1-1 in extra-time before penalties.
Described often as cautious/negative manager, interesting to see how few goalless draws have featured under him at Newcastle and the fact NUFC have scored a massive 100 goals in this full year under the current boss (see all Rafa’s Newcastle 365 days of stats HERE).
Despite Newcastle having only 70% of the possession on Tuesday night, Rafa Benitez says that this was all part of the plan.
Saying he was confident his players would get plenty of chances through this strategy and so it proved, Newcastle having 13 attempts at goal to the six (BBC Sport reported it as eight for Reading) of Reading, whilst they also restricted the home side to only strike on target with Newcastle having five.
Rafa Benitez talking to NUFC TV:
‘Your first nil-nil draw of the season, are you fairly satisfied?’
“I didn’t realise, that is interesting.
“Before these three games, to think of getting seven points – you have to be satisfied.
“This game against a good team (like Reading), the pitch was not the best but we had a lot of good chances.
“It’s a pity – maybe a lot of people say they would take a draw beforehand but we had so many clear cut chances in that first half, then though we could have lost it in the last minute when the ball clipped the crossbar.
“I’m happy though because the players did everything I asked and also happy for the fans because they go home with another point.”
‘You brought Christian Atsu and Dwight Gayle on towards the end, clearly thought you could maybe get three points?’
“We knew that had the possession but they were high and it was a question of finding the right ball, play behind the defence and maybe a one v one situation – still we had opportunities.”
‘Like at Huddersfield, were you happy to let reading have far more of the ball?’
“Yes, I think they (Reading) had six attempts and we had 13 – we had two on target in the first half and four in he second.
“I was quite happy giving them the ball because we could still create clear chances.”