Rafa Benitez was happy with his Newcastle United players after they emerged from a tough run of away games with seven hard-fought Championship points.
Benitez’s side followed up away victories over promotion rivals Brighton and Huddersfield by grinding out a goalless draw by Reading last night.
While Brighton cut Newcastle’s lead to three points by beating Rotherham 2-0, Benitez feels his team – who entertain on-song Fulham in another tough game on Saturday – have shown their “strength” during a tough and tiring three-game sequence.
“If we finish in the top two, I will look back on these three games and think we did well, but if we don’t then I will be thinking about other things,” said Benitez.
“These seven points show we are strong enough to carry on. This division is complicated, you play a lot of games in a short space of time.
“It is not easy when you go away, you don’t have time to recover. I am pleased we will be at home on Saturday. It will be another top game.”
Newcastle had the better of the first half, creating a series of chances, but Jaap Stam’s fifth-top Royals fought back in the second half and Garath McCleary struck the Mags’ bar in injury time.
“It is important to be solid,” said Benitez. “The team is consistent and knows what to do.
“If we can carry on with that mentality, then we will keep going. We had 13 attempts (on goal), and they had six. We knew they like to keep the ball. In the first half, we had the better chances.
“I am happy. To go into these three games away and get seven points is quite good, especially for the players and their performances.
“We maybe lost two points, but we are happy with one point when you consider the crossbar at the end. When you consider our chances, we could have won the game.”
Reading should have gone ahead in the first minute following Garath McCleary’s deflected cross.
Grabban had been left unmarked at the far post but somehow managed to head wide, with the goal at his mercy and keeper Karl Darlow motionless.
Newcastle replied quickly, with home keeper Ali Al-Habsi having to save Yoan Gouffran’s header, at the second attempt, from a Paul Dummett cross.
Gouffran then narrowly failed to get on the end of a Ritchie centre while Al Habsi had to be at his best to turn away a fierce volley from Jonjo Shelvey.
Shelvey’s long-distance drive was bravely blocked by Liam Moore and Al Habsi had to stretch to palm away a dangerous Ritchie cross.
After a Ritchie shot had struck a post and rolled along the goal-line, Gouffran was denied only by Paul McShane’s last-ditch clearance.
Reading opened the stronger after the interval, with McCleary’s wickedly deflected effort evading Darlow but drifting the wrong side of a post. From Joey van den Berg’s resultant corner, Yann Kermorgant’s close-range effort was blocked by a mass of bodies in the six-yard box.
The Tynesiders almost snatched the lead, when Dummett crossed and Daryl Murphy’s glancing header was well stopped by Al Habsi.
Both sides went for a winner in a gripping finale, and McCleary also struck the bar from a tight angle deep into stoppage time,but the draw reflected a fair result.
Reading: Al Habsi, Gunter, McShane, Moore (Obita 50), Blackett, Kelly (Williams 46), van den Berg, Grabban, Mutch, McCleary, Kermorgant. Subs not used: Evans, Beerens, Swift, Popa, Jaakkola. Booked: Gunter.
Newcastle: Darlow, Gamez, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Colback (Diame 88), Gouffran (Atsu 69), Perez, Murphy (Gayle 75). Subs not used: Hanley, Anita, Mbemba, Elliot.
Att: 23,121. Ref: Andy Davies (Hampshire).