Newcastle ........ 2 Stoke ........ 1 Benitez recovery complete as Lascelles heads winner for second week in a row
RAFA BENITEZ was back in business – and it looks like his Newcastle side are too.
He was in the dugout after being forced to miss the 1-0 win at Swansea a week ago due to complications from hernia surgery.
But Benitez kept a low profile on his return, largely contenting himself with a seat on the bench as assistant Mikel Antia did most of the work in the technical area.
He popped out, though, after both Newcastle goals as rejuvenated Toon made it three straight wins thanks to skipper Jamaal Lascelles – after they had started the season with a trio of defeats in league and cup.
They took a 19th-minute lead after Matt Ritchie – by his own admission lucky not to be sent off for a Sadio Mane-style high boot on Swansea defender Alfie Mawson – produced something more cultured this time.
The Scotland winger delivered a right-wing cross with his left foot and Christian Atsu raced in at the far post, beating Mame Biram Diouf to power the ball past keeper Jack Butland.
It was the winger’s first Premier League goal and Newcastle would have been out of sight had former Stoke striker Joselu not spurned a hat-trick of chances before Xherdan Shaqiri levelled in the 57th minute.
But central defender Lascelles, who headed the winner from a Ritchie corner at Swansea, did the same again after 68 minutes to restore the gap.
Newcastle came close to a second goal within three minutes of Atsu’s opener and Ritchie was once more the provider with a right-wing corner that Lascelles glanced wide.
But Shaqiri gave the home side a scare moments later with a crafty right-wing curler that goalkeeper Rob Elliot had to claw away at full stretch.
Stoke centre-back Kurt Zouma zoomed a thundering shot wide before Elliot had to parry an effort from Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
But Mark Hughes’ men struck when Shaqiri cleverly threaded the ball into the far corner from around 25 yards.
Ayoze Perez had the ball in the net for Newcastle but was flagged offside before Elliot brought off a brilliant save from Diouf ’s header after Shaqiri had supplied the left-wing ball.
Newcastle were seething in the 65th minute when Perez played the ball in for Atsu who went down in the penalty area under Zouma’s challenge. Ref