Rafa Benitez says Mohamed Diame’s match-winning ball for Dwight Gayle is the sign of things to come from the midfielder.
A first-half strike from Gayle gave Newcastle United a 1-0 Championship win at Bristol City on Saturday.
Diame, left out against Reading last week because he was short of fitness following his summer move from Hull City, was recalled at Ashton Gate.
And the 29-year-old’s delivery into the path of Gayle couldn’t have been timed any better. Gayle took a touch before shooting past Richard O’Donnell in the City goal.
“He (Diame) has to improve physically, and then he will be an important player for us because he is not scared to keep the ball and try to dribble with it,” said manager Benitez.
“He needs to be a little bit fitter and then hopefully he can be another player with quality who can make the difference in some matches.”
Newcastle spent much of the game on the back foot, and Benitez was heartened by the “character” his team showed in trying circumstances. “The most important thing, for me, is that we showed character, and we showed we can do it in this kind of game,” he said.
“That is a message for the rest of the season now. We have to do this every week, and work as hard as this in every game we play.
“That is the minimum for us now, and after that, maybe we can use our quality to make the difference. But at least we know that we can cope with this kind of opponent and this intensity.
“Some players were probably thinking that it was difficult (to win away). To show character in a game as difficult as this, with the physicality of the opposite team, shows that we are capable of doing it every week.
“It is important to keep clean sheets. We were fine in the first half and had control of the game for a lot of the time.
“After, when they were pushing and pushing, we have to manage the situation a little bit better and then we will be able to create more.”
Home boss Lee Johnson was bitterly disappointed by the outcome but far from downhearted. He said: “There were loads of positives for us. We lost to one quality finish after being caught out by a great ball.
“I can’t be too critical because the players gave everything. The way we penned Newcastle in and the energy we showed were pleasing.”
“We got the ball into good areas so many times without capitalising.”
Bristol City: O’Donnell, Matthews (Little 21), Flint, Magnusson, Golbourne (O’Dowda 64), O’Neil, Reid, Kodjia, Tomlin, Freeman, Abraham (Wilbraham 72). Subs not used: Williams, Brownhill, Pack, O’Leary. Booked: Freeman, Tomlin, Little
Newcastle: Sels, Anita, Mbemba, Lascelles, Clark, Ritchie, Hayden (Shelvey 87), Colback, Gouffran, Diame (Perez 63), Gayle (Aarons 88). Subs not used: Dummett, Hanley, Darlow, Sterry. Goal: Gayle 19
Att: 22,512. Ref: Tony Harrington (Cleveland)