Rafa Benitez says that Newcastle United must learn how to win without Jonjo Shelvey.
A goal from experienced centre-back Glenn Loovens gave Sheffield Wednesday a 1-0 Championship win at St James’s Park last night.
The second-half strike condemned the table-topping Magpies to a fourth home league defeat of the season, and Brighton, a point behind, can regain top spot if they beat QPR today.
Benitez was without the influential Shelvey, who served the first match of a five-game ban for racially abusing an opponent.
Without the former Swansea player, Newcastle lacked a final ball, but manager Benitez felt his team should have done better without the midfielder.
Benitez said: “He is a good player, but we have enough quality on the pitch to win games without him, and we need to do that.
“We have to learn how to play without him and how to play better without him.”
Benitez was unhappy with how his team managed the game. “We should never have allowed them as many counter-attacks as we did to score in the game, ” said the Spaniard, whose side finish off 2016 at home to Nottingham Forest on Friday night.
“We shouldn’t have allowed them three or four counter-attacks in the way we did.
“If it was 0-0 first half, we shouldn’t have given them the chance to score a lot of times in the second half.
“If you cannot control the game, still you can improve. We have to improve. We have another game coming up soon, and it is an opportunity to change things when things are going wrong.”
Both sides were tentative early on before Dwight Gayle saw a strike tipped onto the bar by Owls’ ex-Sunderland keeper Keiren Westwood.
Newcastle defender Ciaran Clark headed off target twice from corners, before former Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher forced home goalie Karl Darlow into a top stop to tip his thunderous shot over.
Just before the break, Benitez’s men had two penalty shouts waved away by referee Paul Tierney. The first came after lots of shirt pulling following a free-kick, before Matt Ritchie went down in the box minutes later.
Moments after the restart, Darlow had to make another stellar save to keep out Fletcher with his legs.
Then, in the 53rd minute, Wednesday grabbed the only goal through Dutch defender Loovens, who netted his first Owls goal, nodding home the rebound from Fernando Forestieri’s initial header.
Wednesday looked content with a one-goal win as they kept men behind the ball after scoring and invited the hosts’ onslaught.
The Magpies looked to force an equaliser and on the hour mark they came close with Isaac Hayden hitting over the bar before Gouffran glanced a header wide.
With 15 minutes left, Westwood pulled off a stunning stop to tip Atsu’s rasping effort over and Wednesday held on for three big points.
Newcastle: Darlow, Anita, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Ritchie, Hayden, Colback (Mitrovic 80), Gouffran (Atsu 63), Diame (Perez 69), Gayle. Subs not used: Lazaar, Mbemba, Yedlin, Sels. Booked: Hayden.
Sheffield Wed: Westwood, Palmer, Lees, Loovens, Pudil, Wallace (Nuhiu 90), Hutchinson, Bannan (Jones 81), Reach, Fletcher, Forestieri (Lucas Joao 77). Subs not used: Wildsmith, Abdi, Hunt, Sasso. Booked: Bannan, Pudil, Reach, Hutchinson, Wallace, Palmer. Goal: Loovens 53.
Ref: Paul Tierney (Lancashire).