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It was Rafa wot won it

5 years ago

Tuesday night was a good night for us to be Newcastle fans – really good.

It is little bits of time like the last 10 minutes of that match which pay you back for all the misery and heartache. Really good stuff. If you can’t enjoy that, then why bother?

So, after the match, flushed with success and a few beers, I clicked on The Mag’s instant reaction piece. Most of it was as you would expect – but there was one comment which (given what we had just watched) made me quite riled.

I won’t use the culprit’s name, but his comment was:

“What a cracking result from an absolute clanger from Rafa…Who in their right mind would ever choose Gouffran and Diame as your focal point in the biggest game of the season with Perez, Murphy and Mitro available? Diame is possibly the worst player I’ve ever seen play for Newcastle…I have to say if we weren’t coming off the back of 4 years of Pardew, Carver then McClaren, Rafa would be under deserved scrutiny for his seemingly attempts at trying his best to mess this straightforward promotion up”

Where do you start with that? Leaving aside the bad grammar, I can only assume that the author hasn’t been watching NUFC very long. I’m no great fan of Diame, but if you asked me to come up with a list the worst players I’ve seen playing for Newcastle, I don’t think Diame would make it into the top (or bottom?) 200!

Who in their right mind would pick Gouffran and Diame for the biggest game of the season? Well, one of the world’s best football brains, that’s who. Someone who had applied his world-leading skill and knowledge to a complex problem with a million potential variables.

He had, I’m sure, studied the opposition carefully.

He had seen them comprehensively dismantle Reading at the weekend with a superb display of counter-attacking football.

He knew that the opposition had a solid defence.

He probably suspected that there wouldn’t be a hatful of goals in the game.

He knew that, given their skill on the counter-attack, the first goal would be extremely important – find yourself chasing the game against a team like Brighton and you have a real task on your hands.

The stats showed him that in the previous 18 (I think) games in which Brighton had scored first, they had gone on to win….18, the whole lot, every single one.

So he knew it would be a game in which we wouldn’t be likely to be throwing players forward in numbers. In those circumstances he clearly took the view that what he wanted up front was: pace, mobility, work-rate, and calm clear heads.

Did he trust Mitrovic in a high-pressure situation like that? Clearly not – and let’s be honest, Mitro might have done well for us, but just as likely he could have done something daft and lost us the game. Murphy did ever so well when he came on and we were pressing forward chasing the game. But for the first 60 minutes he would probably have been lumbering around fruitlessly up front on his own.

So, in the absence of Gayle, Rafa shuffled the pack and came up with a tactical plan – one which kept us right in the game until we got our lucky break after 80 mins.

Let’s go back to the quote from our friend at the top – you know, the football genius who sits so far above our Rafa in the scale of football knowledge and whose vision  and wisdom extends so far that he can see all of Rafa’s “clangers”. Here we are, entering the home straight, top of the league – but Rafa, according to him should “be under deserved scrutiny for his seemingly attempts at trying his best to mess this straightforward promotion up”.

Maybe our friend looks at the league tables and thinks that, because the Premiership table is printed above the Championship table the 20 teams in the Premiership are the best 20 teams, and the teams in the Championship are the next best 24.

It doesn’t work like that sunshine.

I did a piece for the Mag a while back looking at the statistics of how teams that get promoted do in the following year – the reality is that teams that get promoted generally don’t come straight back down, and teams that get promoted well (with a high points total) never do.

The top half of the Championship is full of big name clubs, on the up, who are by-and-large just as good as the bottom half of the Premiership. How would Leeds, or Sheff Wed, or Derby, or Norwich, or Huddersfield, or Reading, or Fulham do next year if they get promoted? They might not tear up too many trees, but they wouldn’t be embarrassed – not by the likes of Palace, or Watford, or Bournemouth, or Burnley, or Sunderland, or Hull.

And Brighton, superbly managed by our very own Chris Hughton, are (along with us) the best of the bunch. If they go up – and I very much hope that they do – my money will be on them finishing top half next year.

So don’t give us that “straightforward promotion” garbage. Maybe it might be straightforward if we had a genius like our friend in charge, but I’m afraid we have to put up with poor old Rafa instead.

And make no mistake, it was Rafa that won the game for us on Tuesday night. He put out a team to compete with really, really strong opposition, away from home. Against a team who literally never fail to win once they go ahead. And then he has a goal given to the opposition by the softest of penalty awards. Exactly what none of us wanted to happen.

But his team didn’t go to pieces. They didn’t lose their cool in the face of the referee’s poor decision. They didn’t go chasing an equaliser like headless chickens and open themselves up to a killer blow. They kept in the game, toe to toe. And let’s be fair – it was a pretty even contest. They got one piece of luck after 15 mins; we got one piece of luck after 80 mins. In between times, they had a few chances, we had a few chances, our keeper made a few good saves, their keeper made a few good saves.

But if there is one moment this season that shows why Rafa is paid the big bucks, why he has managed the biggest clubs in the world, and won the biggest trophies, it was what happened immediately after our equaliser.

While everyone else was losing their heads, jumping around, he stayed calm and thought really really quickly. And lost in amongst all the hubbub he quietly made an immediate substitution. He could have played safe – we would probably all have been happy with a point. But he sensed the opportunity, and immediately decided that the best way to seize it was to put on a slippery will-of-the-wisp player who might just have the ability to sneak into a bit of space.

And the rest is history.

So the match reports might say that it was Perez who won the game with a beautifully taken goal – but it was Rafa wot won it.

And as for our friend the critic who thinks he knows so much.

If I were to say to you that Einstein wasn’t a very good scientist, you wouldn’t think any less of Einstein – you would think that I was an idiot who knew nothing about science.

If I were to say to you that Picasso wasn’t a very good painter, you wouldn’t think any less of Picasso – you would think that I was an idiot who knew nothing about painting.

If I were to say that Rafa Benitez isn’t a very good football manager…

(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])

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