Rafa Benitez was a happy man as Ayoze Perez’s second-half strike secure three precious Premier League points at Stoke City yesterday.
The 1-0 success saw the Magpies climb up to 13th place, piling the pressure on under-fire Potters boss Mark Hughes.
Benitez sprang a surprise by naming Dwight Gayle and Joselu on the bench – and paired Perez up front with winger Christian Atsu.
“I knew that Atsu could play in this position, because I knew him before,” said the Spaniard.
“Ayoze has very clear movement, and the understanding between them both was very good.
“Then the rest of the team were helping with good passes and movement. A fter that, they were defending all together, and that was key.
“They started making crosses from everywhere, and we needed to cope with that, and we did well.
“They created some pressure, but we still had time to create three or four counter-attacks, and we could have finished the game.
“It was really good. I was really pleased with the way the players were working on the pitch, trying to do everything I wanted.
“It was very pleasing. It was difficult for us with the team selection, because the players were tired, so we needed to mix things up a little bit. It was quite good.”
Ciaran Clark was wide from close range as he met a flicked header by Perez, while Charlie Adam twice went close for Stoke.
Magpie keeper Karl Darlow did well to push behind a curling shot from Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting before Newcastle sub Gayle had a penalty claim waved away.
Newcastle went ahead when Perez met a fine cross by Jacob Murphy and shot past Jack Butland, before breathing a sigh of relief following Darlow’s two wonderful stops that kept out Stoke sub Mame Biram Diouf’s acrobatic effort and header.
Benitez has been changing his team throughout the hectic festive period. And the victory at Stoke means that Newcastle have now taken seven points from four games.
“When you win, the changes are right,” added Benitez. “When you do not, maybe not.
“We changed some players, but we know from the training sessions that the partnership between Ayoze and Atsu is good. I knew that Atsu likes to play between the lines and could do well.
“You also saw (Mohamed) Diame and (Jonjo) Shelvey play well together, and that is what we’re doing in the training sessions.”
“We change players, but they know what they have to do, and hopefully when they have to do it in a game, it will be fine.”
Joselu, signed from Stoke in the summer, didn’t make it off the bench.
“He had some cramps the other day, so I couldn’t play him,” said Benitez.
“Maybe I could have at the end, but it would have been a risk, and I don’t want to take a risk when you do not have too many players.
“We have to manage what we have, especially with the strikers.
“We had to make sure the players could recover and be on the pitch. With his cramps the other day, we didn’t want to take any risks.”
Stoke City: Butland, Edwards, Zouma, Wimmer, Pieters (Berahino 71), Allen, Cameron, Adam, Shaqiri (Diouf 57), Crouch, Choupo-Moting. Subs not used: Ireland, Fletcher, Sobhi, Grant, Soutar. Booked: Allen, Choupo-Moting, Wimmer.
Newcastle: Darlow, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Manquillo, Shelvey, Diame, Murphy (Dummett 82), Atsu (Gayle 64), Ritchie, Perez (Hayden 90). Subs not used: Joselu, Merino, Haidara, Woodman. Booked: Manquillo. Goal: Perez 73
Ref: Chris Kavanagh (Lancashire)