OVER TO YOU ON ATSU, FANS TELL RAFA
NEWCASTLE manager Rafa Benitez refused to confirm one way or the other whether he would be chasing a permanent deal in the summer for Christian Atsu after the Ghanaian’s performance in a history-making triumph over Cardiff left Magpies fans purring.
The 25-year-old, who is on a season-long loan at St James’ Park from Premier League leaders Chelsea, opened the scoring at Cardiff City Stadium with a sublime free-kick on 55 minutes.
That capped a sparkling display out wide from the Ghana international, but despite Newcastle fans begging Benitez to secure the signature of Chelsea’s perennial loanee for next season, he remained coy on his future.
“The future of a player doesn’t change with one action or goal,” said Benitez. “We know that he’s a good player. We have to decide. I’m really pleased with him. We have to see where we are in terms of the squad and all these things.”
It was “business as usual” on the pitch for the Magpies according to Benitez, despite Thursday’s raid on St James’ Park by Revenue and Customs officers just days after the club secured an immediate return to the Premier League.
Ten minutes after Atsu’s opener, Isaac Hayden – who buzzed around the midfield with bags of purpose all game – smashed home a wonderful long-range effort to make it 2-0 and game over.
The victory meant Newcastle’s class of 2017 enter the record books with 14 away wins and put pressure on title rivals Brighton’s game against Bristol City 24 hours later. The 14 road triumphs are the most in the club’s history, surpassing Kevin Keegan’s record of 13 wins in the 1992/93 season, and Benitez tipped his cap to a job well done by his charges in front of 4,000 travelling fans.
He said: “I am really pleased because the players have done so well during the whole season, especially away.
“It was a pity not to break the record before. To get it in the next game after the promotion is quite positive for anybody in a relationship with Newcastle. We have done our job.
“When you play away it’s always good for your fans if you can win, but especially when it’s a long, long trip and you break a record. The fans are delighted and they can go back happy.”
The lively away end had referee Graham Scott to thank in a first half of few chances, after he ruled out a header by Bluebirds captain Sean Morrison for a foul on Ciaran Clark.
And following Newcastle’s double after the interval, both Bruno Ecuele Manga and Craig Noone were guilty of wasting good chances to give Neil Warnock’s side a lifeline, leaving the Cardiff boss frustrated.
“We had good chances and finishing those is what you pay for. I’m trying to get more goals in the team, that’s what I’m looking for in the summer,” he said.
“We were a bit unlucky. I didn’t see anything wrong with Morrison’s header, it’s a very soft foul. If you look at the free-kick he gave for their first goal, it’s a nothing free-kick. We have to start educating players what to do when you get a referee like that.
“I thought (Graham Scott) had a bad game. He was poor with his positioning and interpretation.”
MAKING A FIST OF IT: Christian Atsu celebrates after scoring from a free-kick, inset