Newcastle United boss praised his three debutants for their role in last night’s 3-1 FA Cup third round replay win over Birmingham City.
Benitez handed starts to Yasin Ben El-Mhanni, Stuart Findlay and Dan Barlaser, and the Magpies sealed a fourth-round trip to Oxford United thanks to Matt Ritchie’s brace and a Yoan Gouffran strike.
Findlay and Barlaser, whose bow came on his 20th birthday, played the full 90 minutes in a side featuring eight changes. “The happiest one will be Barlaser, because it’s his birthday,” said Benitez. “I’m sure he’ll remember it for the rest of his life.
“It’s not easy when you have young players. We were training with them for three or four days. It’s important just to work hard and try to give everything. I think the three of them were working hard and trying. They are part of this team that won.
“It’s important for them, but also for the Academy players and for all the staff, that they see some players in the first team.”
Benitez made so many changes because he couldn’t risk losing any more players to injury ahead of Saturday’s Championship game at home to bottom club Rotherham.
“We knew we had to make changes because we’ve got so many games, we’ve had injuries, and got players away at the Africa Nations Cup,” said Benitez. “We had to use the squad. I said it was important to win, but using the squad and not taking too many risks with some players.”
The Magpie boss felt that Jono Shelvey made the difference for Newcastle, on his return from a five-game ban.
“It’s always important to have numbers in terms of players, but especially someone like him, that has quality – he can pass the ball, he can make the others play,” said Benitez. “It is another big boost for us as a team to see Jonjo controlling and dictating the tempo of the game.
“He was training really well. He was working hard in training sessions, so, in terms of his fitness, he is fine. In terms of his match fitness, he needed to play.”
Ritchie opened the scoring with a ninth-minute penalty after keeper Adam Legzdins felled Gouffran.
Gouffran flicked an Achraf Lazaar cross against the post before doubling the lead, controlling Shelvey’s free-kick before spinning to fire into the bottom corner of the net.
Blues rallied when David Cotterill’s mis-hit 71st-minute shot eluded Matz Sels. Sub Lukas Jutkiewicz headed over five mintues later, when he might have levelled, before Ritchie killed off the tie in stoppage time, with Shelvey again the architect.
Benitez hopes he will be able to field a stronger starting XI in the club’s fourth-round tie away to League One side Oxford on January 28.
“I can see us going for the next game against Oxford, trying to do well,” said Benitez. “But the cup competition in England is always difficult.
“When you play against any team against this stage of the competition, it has to be difficult. But hopefully we will have more bodies.”
Newcastle: Sels, Yedlin (Hayden 75), Hanley, Findlay, Lazaar, Shelvey, Tiote (Colback 82), Ritchie, El-Mhanni (Perez 70), Barlaser, Gouffran. Subs not used: Dummett, Lascelles, Elliot, Murphy. Booked: Tiote. Goals: Ritchie 9 pen & 90, Gouffran 35
Birmingham: Legzdins, Dacres-Cogley, Robinson, Shotton, Grounds, Kieftenbeld (Fabbrini 80), Davis (Brown 64), Tesche, Adams, Solomon-Otabor (Jutkiewicz 64), Cotterill. Subs not used: Gleeson, Spector, Morrison, Kuszczak. Booked: Legzdins, Shotton, Brown. Goal: Cotterill 71. Att: 34,896.