Rafael Benitez piles praise on Newcastle’s staying power

Date published: Thursday 15th December 2016 2:45

Newcastle ground out a 2-0 victory over Wigan that lifted them back to the Championship’s summit and had Rafael Benitez praising their staying power.

The Magpies once again responded to Brighton’s win a day earlier to regain their spot at the top, as they did at the weekend, though these three points were not delivered as emphatically as Saturday’s 4-0 success over Birmingham.

At the DW Stadium, ex-Wigan midfielder Mohamed Diame’s first-half goal was only added to by a 78th-minute strike from substitute Christian Atsu against the struggling hosts, who have now gone five games without scoring at home.

Though Latics never truly made them sweat, Newcastle were not in the type of form that has seen them in promotion contention, but their manager was just pleased they got the job done.

“We have had some games where we couldn’t score the second goal and then we had problems,” Benitez admitted.

“In this case, we knew that we needed to finish the game with the second goal because they were pushing, crossing, winning second balls, it was difficult.

“We needed fresh legs to change the game and we did it. The team was working very hard to get three points.

“We tried to play well. The pitch wasn’t the best in terms of the possibility to pass the ball on the floor. You could see they needed to control the ball and it was more difficult.

“We try to play well and if we can, perfect, because we will have more chances to win more games if we play well. If not, we have to just work hard and try to win.”

After 21 games, Newcastle have a nine-point advantage over third-placed Reading in their quest to instantly return to the top flight.

They may be cruising towards promotion, yet Brighton’s 15-game unbeaten run means they have a genuine rival for the second-tier title.

Asked if they can stay at the top, Benitez replied: “We will try obviously to do it but Brighton are doing well. Hopefully we can keep winning our games. We don’t need to see what they are doing if we continue doing what we have to do.

“(Brighton boss Chris Hughton) is a great manager and they are a very good team doing really well. It’s not easy to win in any competition but in the Championship still they are winning – that shows how good he is and how good the team is.”

Wigan’s focus is on safety, something they are currently four points adrift from, and a lack of goals is their clear Achilles heel with their total of 16 the same as Dwight Gayle’s entire personal haul for Newcastle this season.

“There were some good opportunities but even more frustrating was that there were opportunities where we didn’t even get contact or efforts on target,” said Latics boss Warren Joyce.

“There was no devilment, no real aggression to get a goal.

“Every game, barring the Reading game, we’ve always been in with a chance of winning it. I don’t think any of the top sides have come here, played us off the park, cut through us and given us real problems.”

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