BEN­ITEZ: WE ARE SO CLOSE NOW...

Ritchie, Gayle kill off the Lat­ics

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Ross Jack­son

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.

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

DWIGHT’S AL­RIGHT: New­cas­tle United’s Dwight Gayle scores the opener

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