Monday 25 September 2017

Leader Lascelles' perfect tonic for recovering Benitez

Swansea 0 Newcastle 1

Newcastle United's Jamaal Lascelles celebrates after the final whistle. Photo credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Newcastle United's Jamaal Lascelles celebrates after the final whistle. Photo credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Martin Hardy

The telephone conversation between Rafa Benitez and Antonio Gomez that provided the line of communication for the entirety of Newcastle's visit to Swansea would really have been worth a listen at around quarter past five yesterday afternoon.

At that point Tammy Abraham had rounded Rob Elliot and looked set to give Swansea a lead that in truth they did not deserve.

Newcastle United's Henri Saivet (left) and Swansea City's Wilfried Bony (right) battle for the ball. Photo credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Newcastle United's Henri Saivet (left) and Swansea City's Wilfried Bony (right) battle for the ball. Photo credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire

In the summer, rather than celebrate his wedding anniversary, Benitez drove down to St George's Park and persuaded the England U-21 striker to move to St James' Park once the transfer window opened.

Abraham told his friends he was going to Newcastle but, to the consternation of Benitez, when Swansea offered the 20-year-old more money, the intended transfer did not happen.

Newcastle's summer moved on a different trajectory pretty much from that point, although it is without doubt recovering.

Then, on the hour mark, with Benitez homebound with his family in the Wirral, as he continues his recovery from a medical procedure to deal with an infection following a hernia operation, Abraham was sent through by Leroy Fer, rounded Ireland international Elliot, and shot into an open goal.

Swansea City's Tammy Abraham (right) and Newcastle United's Christian Atsu (left) in action. Photo credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Swansea City's Tammy Abraham (right) and Newcastle United's Christian Atsu (left) in action. Photo credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire

The telephone line at that point, which was Benitez's only method of communication throughout the afternoon to his staff, and then to his players, would most likely have went a deep Spanish blue.

At times a football club needs a bit more than style, or flair, or even, dare say it these days, expensive transfers.

It needs heart and passion and people who give a monkeys for the cause.

With the scores tied at 0-0, and Abraham's shot heading towards the goal behind which the 2000 fans who had travelled 300 miles from Newcastle were housed, Jamaal Lascelles launched himself into the kind of sliding block the club's players so rarely committed to the last time the club were in this division, two season's ago.

Swansea City's Tammy Abraham (left) and Newcastle United's Christian Atsu (right). Photo credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Swansea City's Tammy Abraham (left) and Newcastle United's Christian Atsu (right). Photo credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Lascelles slid and urged his body to make the block, which it did, as he hurtled towards the far post of Elliot's goal. He made the block and fortune followed him as the ball hit his chest (not his arm) and went behind for a corner. It was a captain's block.

The last time Newcastle were a Premier League club they did not have one, or leaders in the dressing room that Benitez inherited, and Lascelles, a young man, bellowed at everybody who would listen as to why.

Big clubs need big men and Lascelles stood up. He started last season with Benitez giving him the captain's armband and ended it lifting the Championship trophy.

He had put his body on the line to such an extent that he limped up to collect it having himself undergone a hernia operation that should have taken place four months earlier.

That sliding block was huge, the game's seminal moment. It kept Newcastle level and then provided a platform for victory that the same player provided, with similar determination.

Swansea City's Alfie Mawson and Martin Olsson in action with Newcastle United’s Ayoze Perez. Photo: Reuters/Rebecca Naden
Swansea City's Alfie Mawson and Martin Olsson in action with Newcastle United’s Ayoze Perez. Photo: Reuters/Rebecca Naden

With 14 minutes remaining, Lascelles capped off a supreme captain's performance with the game-winning goal.

The left wing corner came over from Matt Ritchie and, with Swansea's zonal markers at sea, the former Nottingham Forest defender came into the penalty area and, unmarked, rose to power a header past Lukasz Fabianski from six yards.

It was enough for victory and it deserved to be. Newcastle created more, and with their manager absent, they were rarely troubled. Benitez has drilled his players for 18 months now, and it showed, even without him in attendance.

Communication

The line of communication went pretty much from Benitez to Gomez and then to number two Paco and fellow coach Miguel Antia, and then to the players.

The level of control will have done as much as anything to help Benitez on his road to recovery.

There was no message to be brave. That is now a given at Newcastle - as Lascelles once more proved.

Like his manager, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley would have been in fine spirits following his side's second league victory in succession.

Ashley had offered Benitez the use of his helicopter to travel to South Wales, although in doing so left himself open to questions about why he had not been so generous to his manager in the transfer window.

Yet, as Swansea so proudly paraded their celebrated acquisitions, and then watched Renato Sanches and the returning Wilfried Bony do not very much at all, Ashley should have breathed a few sighs of relief. For now, at least.

© Independent News Service.

 

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