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Opinion

This substitution was pure Rafa Benitez

10 months ago
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This just epitomised Rafa Benitez…

Newcastle United have just scored two goals in the space of four minutes. They’re 3-0 up against last seasons Champions. St James Park is bouncing as wave after wave of attack make Newcastle look like they can score every time they go forward.

In particular, down the right hand side Newcastle are causing all sorts of trouble with Yedlin, Shelvey and Ritchie getting beyond the relatively inexperienced Emerson. We scored five against Spurs on the final day of the last season the last time we played in the PL, and now the crowd are baying for more.

It was typical of Rafa Benitez to bring us back down to earth.

Isaac Hayden, a defensive midfielder and centre-back by trade, was brought on for Matt Ritchie to play on the right-hand side of midfield.

Even when everyone else is in party mode, Rafa Benitez is still pedantically planning until the last minute. There was no way we were going to throw away that game, but Rafa is a man of detail, meticulous detail in fact.

Rather than throw everything forward in the hope of more goals, he was urging caution, like he has done since the first day he took over. Hayden came on and helped shore up the game and guarantee yet another clean shirt. Newcastle conceded less goals than Arsenal this season.

Caution has been the name of the game from Benitez. For a fan base that in the past has been known to perhaps get too ahead of themselves at times, having a guy like Benitez in charge who restores some sense of order to this mad place we call Newcastle United, is imperative.

Rafa was the only thing that stopped somewhat of a meltdown the last time that we got relegated.

After we lost our first two games of the season in the Championship, he urged calm and caution.

After the 9 game winning run that sent us to the top of the Championship he again urged everyone to stay calm.

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The same argument applies following the consecutive wins away to Brighton and Huddersfield, or when promotion back to the Premier League was confirmed.

Throughout the following summer when we were all losing our minds with the lack of signings, or (the lack of) support the manager appeared to be receiving, Rafa was probably the only one who remained cool.

Even when the PL season came round, it’s been the same message. From our good start, to the dreadful pre-Christmas form, and urging fans not to get ahead of themselves in 2018.

Until the very last minute on Sunday, Benitez was marshalling along the touch-line, kicking every ball and at times practically walking some of the players through the game. You just can’t underestimate the effect that this guy has on not just the whole team, but the positive effect upon the fans and the entire city.

You’re always going to get those few Ashley apologists, the few that defend him, the few that say he has spent money at Newcastle and therefore shouldn’t be criticised. Is it attention seeking behaviour on their part? That would be my honest opinion.

Likewise, there are always going to be those sections of the media who will jump at their first chance to slag off Benitez or anything related to Newcastle United.

At a time when Mike Ashley seems pretty intent on doing all he can to undermine Rafa, I think it is fair to point out that as far as value for money signings go, Rafa Benitez is Mike Ashley’s best. I don’t know what he is on at Newcastle, but if it is the £2-3 million year that is reported, then how cheap is that?

It’s not easy being a Newcastle fan, especially following Newcastle away from home, but when you have a manager whose attitude is so in tune with his players and the fans, it makes things an awful lot easier.

At the start of season, when asked about the lack of signings that had been made, Rafa said: “This summer I was expecting other things, but OK, we don’t have those things so now we have to move forward. I will do my best.”

It is this attitude which has dragged us away from relegation and towards 10th place this season. That willingness to keep moving forward, despite the knocks, and the assertiveness that giving your best is the absolute minimum standard that you can give.

It sounds so simple and yet for so many years at Newcastle United we have lacked that very basic attitude. For the first time in a long time there is a manager in the dug out who is taking us in an upwards direction, rather than sideways or backwards. As a fan, how can you not back him?

If you are out there defending Mike Ashley, then you are not defending the best thing that has happened to Newcastle United since the days of Sir Bobby Robson.

The Hayden substitution epitomises what this squad has become under Rafa, a group of players who have been forced into staying grounded, yes ride the wave of optimism, yes use the momentum in the correct way, but most importantly, it is about improving and getting better.

Rafa Benitez has got the absolute maximum out of this group of players and he will be fully intending to get the absolute maximum out of next season’s group too.

You can follow the author on Twitter @JonathanComyn
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