Rafa Benitez felt his Newcastle United players left everything on the field at St James’s Park last night – and he’s backing them to take the fight to Anfield.
The Tynesiders drew 1-1 with Manchester City to move to within two points of Premier League safety.
Benitez hailed the reaction of his team to Sergio Aguero’s offside opening goal.
Vurnon Anita levelled in the 31st minute, and substitute Georginio Wijnaldum had a chance to take all three points for Newcastle in the 89th minute, but his first shot was blocked and his second attempt his the side netting.
Manager Benitez feels the performance bodes well for the Magpies’ final four matches, the first of which is away to his former club, Liverpool, on Saturday.
Benitez said: “They tell me the goal was offside, but the reaction of the team was so good.
“To see them with this belief, this fight, you have to be optimistic for the rest of the games.
“I was pleased with the reaction. Hopefully, we will not have bad decisions in the next games. You have to try on the pitch and they tried.
“That incident could have got us fighting. Had they scored before that, then maybe the fans would have felt it could be another bad game.
“But every single tackle, we had the fans with us.
“That is really important, not just for this game. Everyone will say everything was positive. We want the fans to keep pushing, and that will be crucial if we want to stay up.”
The opener, on 14 minutes, came when Andros Townsend was aggrieved to have been penalised for his challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov, and his disappointment increased markedly when the Serbian drilled the resulting free-kick to the near post and Aguero rose to glance it past keeper Karl Darlow, with the officials failing to spot that he did so from an offside position.
The Magpies levelled when Moussa Sissoko collected Townsend’s pass on the left and floated a crossfield ball out towards Anita, who cushioned it into his path before cutting inside and drilling left-footed past Joe Hart and in off the base of the far post.
Wijnaldum – who hasn’t scored since January – left St James’s Park frustrated that he had not claimed a win for his team, who have not beaten City in the league since 2005.
And Benitez said: “I am very pleased, had Gini scored that goal at the end I would have been even more pleased.
“I felt the reaction of players – they were fighting, they had commitment – and I felt the relationship with the fans – everything. It’s just a pity we didn’t get a second goal.
“Everyone knew about the record we had against them, everyone expected the worse against them.”
Newcastle are now a point behind Sunderland, who have a game in hand.
On the table, Benitez added: “For us, it is not (time) to look at the table, we have to concentrate on the next game. If you are doing numbers you are wasting time. We have to try to get three points and approach the games with the same idea.”
City qualified for the Champions League semi-finals last week, and Benitez was philosophical.
“It could be better, but could it be worse,” he said. “You are playing a team in the Champions League and towards the top of the Premier League. They have fantastic players. Before the game, I wanted three points. After the goal, I see the reaction and think one point would be fine.”
Meanwhile, Newcastle winger Andros Townsend said: “It’s a point, we’re still alive, we’re still kicking and we’re still in there with a chance. It’s now down to us to start picking up points away from home.” We showed great character.”
Newcastle: Darlow, Anita, Mbemba, Lascelles, Dummett, Tiote, Colback, Townsend (Wijnaldum 81), Sissoko, Perez (Aarons 90), Cisse (Mitrovic 55). Subs not used: De Jong, Shelvey, Saivet, Woodman. Booked: Anita, Perez, Sissoko. Goal: Anita 31
Man City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Mangala, Kolarov, Toure (Fernandinho 73), Fernando, Jesus Navas (Bony 84), De Bruyne, Delph (Sterling 68), Aguero. Subs not used: Caballero, Demichelis, Otamendi, Iheanacho. Booked: Kompany, Mangala. Goal: Aguero 14
Att: 46,424. Ref: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)