There is a bit of a strange relationship between Rafa Benitez and the Newcastle fans.
Universal support from the fans for the manager.
Yet on a matchday, you would find it hard to track down any Newcastle supporter who agrees with his team selection.
On Monday it was a classic example, I bet not a single one of the 3,200 travelling fans (see above) would have picked the team Rafa Benitez had chosen when it was announced at 2pm.
Standing there in the away end at Stoke City before kick-off, I got the impression that if things went wrong, the manager may have been subjected to his worst criticism yet.
Not in terms of wanting him out, just fans questioning why he had chosen that particular team.
After failing to beat Brighton and desperately needing a win, Rafa made five changes and didn’t even include an out and out striker.
Mikel Merino left on the bench along with Dwight Gayle, whilst Diame, Murphy and Perez were brought in.
An experimental shift with three wingers selected, Christian Atsu moved to behind the main striker, was this really the time to be chopping, changing and experimenting?
Of course, everybody was happy at the final whistle.
A deserved Newcastle victory, by far the better team (which everybody but Mark Hughes agreed with…), and Rafa Benitez proved right, once more.
We now face another week of Newcastle fans agreeing that Rafa Benitez is undoubtedly the man for NUFC, before we get the next set of grumblings at his choice of players.
The bottom line is that Rafa has very few stand out choices when picking his team, especially when having to play three games in five days, including two matches within 48 hours.
I’m guessing that the key to his team against Stoke was choosing players who were physically at their best to play.
Merino and Joselu both looked knackered in the second half against Brighton, whilst Paul Dummett was never going to be able to play two games in such quick succession, after over four months out.
As for Dwight Gayle, he didn’t look sharp against Brighton and no doubt Rafa Benitez was looking to use him as he did against Manchester City, as an impact sub fresh against tiring players.
In that Man City match it almost worked with a penalty shout and header that just went wide, at Stoke he looked far better again coming off the bench and very definitely should have had a penalty when Zouma pushed him over, shortly before the goal.
Of course, Rafa Benitez won’t get everything right, but with a squad made up almost entirely of very average players, many of them not Premier League standard, he has to juggle what he has got.
If the manager had been properly supported by Mike Ashley in the summer and brought in the four minimum better quality players, then it would be a very different story.
We would then have a solid base of six or more players who were obvious first choice and it would have undoubtedly brought out better from certain existing players, the likes of Ritchie and Gayle for sure.
Ignoring Man City, Rafa Benitez has navigated a very difficult festive period and picked up seven points from nine against relegation rivals, six of those points coming on the road.
Surely the only show in town should be Newcastle fans speculating on just what he could do if Rafa eventually gets to bring in the players that he wants, rather than the ones he has to make do with.