BENITEZ: WE ARE SO CLOSE NOW...
Ritchie, Gayle kill off the Latics
NEWCASTLE United’s uninspiring home win over Wigan could yet prove pivotal on a defining day in the automatic promotion chase.
With Burton scoring a 96thminute winner at Huddersfield on the same afternoon the Geordies edged to three points courtesy of Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie strikes, the gap between first and third extended to 10 points.
“Everybody can feel the situation now. We’re so close,” commented Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez after seeing his side claim a first win in four games.
“You see Brighton winning 1-0, Huddersfield losing. It is not easy for anyone. In this mini league of eight games, now seven, we are in a good position and we have to carry on.
“If the other teams make mistakes, better for us – but we have to concentrate on ourselves.”
Although this was far from the ideal display from his side, the Spaniard remained philosophical as an edgy United head into the final run-in.
“When you win you have to be happy, especially now at this stage of the season. It is the most important thing,” he added.
Struggling once again to put the visiting team under significant pressure early on, an all too frequent occurrence at St James’ Park, Newcastle allowed Wigan to settle during a tepid opening half-hour, prior to cracking Athletic open in the 36th minute.
Mo Diame was the creator in an otherwise ineffectual display, crossing low from the right for Gayle to tap in from close range at the back post. If the roar from the crowd was more relief than joy, it was tempered in the 50th minute when Wigan, lacking in attacking ambition and intent, struck an unlikely equaliser. Michael Jacobs put the ball through the legs of United skipper Jamaal Lascelles, leaving the centre-half floundering, before subtly dinking the ball over the onrushing Karl Darlow to send the travelling hordes into raptures.
Despite wobbling alarmingly after conceding, Dan Burn proving particularly profligate with a free header for the visitors, Newcastle struck back seven minutes later.
Paul Dummett delivered low from the left and found Gayle. The striker miscued his effort but it fell fortunately for Ritchie who struck his shot into the turf. As Matt Gilks pushed it onto a post, the rebound was nodded in by the Scotland international to restore the home side’s advantage.
It was a game-winning goal, but for Wigan, and their interim manager Graham Barrow, it was a morale-boosting display.
“We couldn’t open up because it would have made it very difficult for us. We had to keep it a tight game,” he said.
“We got in good situations. It’s all ifs, buts and maybes but that is part and parcel of football.
“They got the rub of the green with the second goal but they took it. It’s not enough but if we play like that we have still got a chance.”
Barrow was hoping the title chase would have got to their hosts.
“I know they are under a little bit of pressure and that is what we were hoping to turn against them, but in fairness they stuck at it,” he said.
Wigan travel to Ipswich before a crunch clash at home to already relegated Rotherham as they bid to beat the drop.
DWIGHT’S ALRIGHT: Newcastle United’s Dwight Gayle scores the opener