Tuesday 24 April 2018

Benitez birthday present fuels hopes of salvation for Newcastle

Newcastle Utd 3 Swansea Ciity 0

Moussa Sissoko celebrates scoring the second goal for Newcastle United at St James' Park. Photo: Craig Brough/Reuters
Moussa Sissoko celebrates scoring the second goal for Newcastle United at St James' Park. Photo: Craig Brough/Reuters
Swansea City's Jefferson Montero in challenged by Newcastle United's Chancel Mbemba and Vurnon Anita during their Premier League clash. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez speaks with Papiss Cisse at St James' Park. Photo: Craig Brough/Reuters
Newcastle United's Georginio Wijnaldum and Swansea City's Angel Rangel (left) during the Barclays Premier League match at St James' Park. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA
Newcastle United's Moussa Sissoko in action against Swansea City's Leroy Fer and Jefferson Montero. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

Luke Edwards

It may yet prove to be false hope, but at least Newcastle United supporters have some again after this encouraging win re-energised their survival mission.

Newcastle fans know better than most that it is the hope that kills you in the end, but at least their side has a glimmer of a chance. They are sinking, but no longer wearing concrete boots.

Maybe, just maybe, Rafael Benitez can save them. With five games remaining, they probably need to win at least three of them to have any chance of survival. Win four and they will be almost certain to do so.

It no longer seems such a far-fetched scenario. This victory over Swansea, coupled with Sunderland's win at Norwich City, changes things, even if it does not radically alter anything.

Newcastle remain second from bottom, three points adrift of Norwich and safety. However, should Newcastle beat Manchester City at home tomorrow night, anything will seem possible.

It could hardly be a tougher game in hand, especially as City are still not certain of a top-four finish in the Premier League, but stranger things have happened this season, which is why Manuel Pellegrini's side are not competing for the title.

Having waited until his fifth game as manager to secure his first win, a Benitez-inspired miracle remains possible according to the Newcastle players.

"I think you guys (the media) wrote us off before the game," said Andros Townsend, after his man-of-the-match performance.

"But we knew we had four home games remaining and, what we did against Swansea, we knew that kind of performance was coming. We have stayed confident and knew it would click, even when we were losing games. We believe we can go on a run and get ourselves out of trouble."

Townsend was the only one of Newcastle's January signings to start Saturday's game and he was always the most likely player to make things happen in the final third.

He may have a release clause in his contract if Newcastle go down, but the England international would clearly prefer to remain on Tyneside as a Premier League player.

The former Tottenham winger scored Newcastle's third goal, set up superbly by substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic, who also won the header from a Townsend corner from which Moussa Sissoko scored his team's precious second goal with eight minutes remaining.

Jamaal Lascelles had given the Magpies the lead just before half-time from another Townsend corner, but Swansea were the better team in the second half and Sissoko's goal was crucial.

That the France international had been made captain by Benitez raised plenty of eyebrows before the game.

Sissoko (left) epitomises everything that is wrong with Newcastle - a talented individual, who too often goes missing when the pressure is on.

Benitez was gambling by giving him the armband, but it worked. Sissoko thrived with the extra responsibility, worked harder than anyone and those around him responded to it.

"I was really pleased for him," said the Newcastle boss.

"I wanted to give him some confidence and he has a lot of influence with the French players because they see him as a big name and a big player."

On the day he turned 56, Benitez had his best day since his took charge on March 11.

"Everybody was happy in the dressing room," he added. "It was a good present for me. The players were working so hard.

"They showed the passion, the character and the commitment that we were looking for. The fans appreciated that. I'm really pleased for them.

"I think the players have the belief now. They are now thinking that we can do it. They have this feeling, like all the fans.

"Everybody thinks we can do it.

"The ideas we practise in training, they were trying and trying. In the end we won, we scored three goals and we had some other chances."

Swansea were well beaten in the end, but they should have been level before Sissoko scored the second goal.

Ashley Williams, Jefferson Montero and Bafetimbi Gomis all missed good chances, but the Welsh club could be forgiven for their off-day given how well they have done since Francesco Guidolin arrived as manager in January.

"I know how football is and we have done very well in the last few weeks," said Guidolin.

"I would like my players to play like they did against Chelsea every week, but football does not work like that." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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