Big wake-up call for Magpies, admits Benitez, as Fulham start Championship season in style

Fulham livewire Dennis Odoi gets away from Newcastle debutant Matt Ritchie in the Londoners' 1-0 victory at Craven Cottage last night
Fulham livewire Dennis Odoi gets away from Newcastle debutant Matt Ritchie in the Londoners' 1-0 victory at Craven Cottage last night
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Rafa Benitez last night labelled Newcastle United’s season-opening Sky Bet Championship defeat as a “wake-up call”.

Benitez’s side were beaten 1-0 by Fulham at Craven Cottage, as Matt Smith’s first-half header earned the Londoners all three points.

The Tynesiders could have been awarded a penalty before Smith lost his marker to head a corner past goalkeeper Matz Sels.

But Newcastle manager Benitez felt his team had only themselves to blame.

“We didn’t play at the level we were expecting,” said the former Liverpool boss, whose side must now focus on the visit of Huddersfield Town a week today.

“We were not keeping the ball in attack. We didn’t win the second balls. We have to improve, and this game is a wake-up call for everyone.

“You could see when we were losing 1-0 we had anxiety, we had to manage the ball much better and play with the ideas we wanted to do.

“We didn’t concentrate like we have to, especially when you are losing you need to be calm and do things much better.

“I know the competition, the team, the expectations were there that we would come and win, but we said they were a good team and we had to be ready.”

Fulham were better across the pitch that an edgy and nervous Magpie side.

“We conceded this goal, and we have worked on this during the week. We have to react and we have to get better,” added Benitez.

“More than (making) signings, we have to keep working. We need something a little bit more. We need to manage the situation better.”

Benitez refused to blame referee Simon Hooper for the defeat, with the Wiltshire official missed a handball in the box from home defender Ryan Tunnicliffe, as he tried to deal with a Matt Ritchie cross, when the game was goalless. There was another penalty call late on when a Ritchie shot struck Tomas Kalas on the arm.

Asked about the penalty calls, Benitez said: “The first one was clear. It was not given, but we had to carry on and I’ll not make an excuse.”

Newcastle struggled with and without the ball, and the ease with which Smith lost his marker for his goal underlined the work Benitez needs to do with a defence which proved vulnerable to set-pieces in pre-season.

“The only positive is that it is the beginning of the season and we have to make sure we are ready for the next game,” he added.

“We need to improve a lot of things. Everybody has realised it can’t be like this for the rest of the season.”

Wantaway Moussa Sissoko could return next week. Asked about the France midfielder, Benitez said: “Moussa was not match fit, because he came on Monday.

“We don’t have to sell him. Sissoko will be better next weekend, he will train tomorrow and during the week. We will see how he is.”

Fulham: Button, Odoi, Kalas, Madl, Malone (Ream 85), McDonald, Tunnicliffe (Parker 69), Cairney, Aluko, Ayite, Smith (Christensen 69). Subs not used: Stearman, Woodrow, Joronen, Edun. Booked: Odoi. Goal: Smith 45.

Newcastle: Sels, Janmaat, Lascelles, Hanley, Dummett, Anita, Hayden (Shelvey 77), Colback (Aarons 61), Ritchie, Perez (Armstrong 70), Gayle. Subs not used: Mbemba, Darlow, Gamez, Sterry. Booked: Hanley, Dummett, Janmaat.

Att: 23,922. Ref: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire)