Ben­itez fu­els New­cas­tle hope of late sal­va­tion run

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE - By Luke Ed­wards at St James’ Park

It may yet prove to be false hope, but at least New­cas­tle United sup­port­ers have some again af­ter this en­cour­ag­ing win re-en­er­gised their sur­vival mis­sion.

New­cas­tle fans know bet­ter than most that it is the hope that kills you in the end, but at least their side has a glim­mer of a chance. They are sink­ing, but no longer wear­ing con­crete boots.

Maybe, just maybe, Rafael Benítez can save them. With five games re­main­ing, they prob­a­bly need to win at least three of them to have any chance of sur­vival. How­ever, win four and they will be al­most cer­tain to. It no longer seems such a far-fetched sce­nario.

This vic­tory over Swansea, cou­pled with Sun­der­land’s win at Nor­wich City, changes things, but it does not rad­i­cally al­ter any­thing. New­cas­tle re­main sec­ond from bot­tom, three points adrift of Nor­wich and safety.

How­ever, should New­cas­tle beat Manch­ester City at home to­mor­row night, any­thing will seem pos­si­ble. It could hardly be a tougher game in hand, es­pe­cially as City are still not cer­tain of a top-four fin­ish in the Premier League, but stranger things have hap­pened this sea­son, which is why Manuel Pel­le­grini’s side are not com­pet­ing for the ti­tle.

Hav­ing waited un­til his fifth game as man­ager to se­cure his first win, a Benítez-in­spired mir­a­cle re­mains pos­si­ble ac­cord­ing to the New­cas­tle play­ers. “I think you guys [the me­dia] wrote us off be­fore the game,” said An­dros Townsend, af­ter his man-of-the-match per­for­mance. “But we knew we had four games at home re­main­ing and what we did against Swansea, we knew that kind of per­for­mance was com­ing.

“We have stayed con­fi­dent and knew it would click, even when we were los­ing games. We be­lieve we can go on a run and get our­selves out of trou­ble.”

Townsend was the only one of New­cas­tle’s Jan­uary sign­ings to start the game and he was al­ways the most likely player to make things hap­pen in the fi­nal third. He may have a re­lease clause in his con­tract if New­cas­tle go down, but the Eng­land in­ter­na­tional would clearly pre­fer to re­main on Ty­ne­side as a Premier League player.

The for­mer Tot­ten­ham winger scored New­cas­tle’s third goal, set up su­perbly by sub­sti­tute Alek­san­dar Mitro­vic, who also won the header from a Townsend cor­ner from which Moussa Sis­soko scored his team’s pre­cious sec­ond goal with eight min­utes re­main­ing.

Ja­maal Las­celles had given the Mag­pies the lead just be­fore half­time from an­other Townsend cor­ner, but Swansea were the bet­ter team in the sec­ond half and Sis­soko’s goal was cru­cial.

That the France in­ter­na­tional had been made cap­tain by Benítez raised plenty of eye­brows be­fore the game. Sis­soko epit­o­mises every­thing that is wrong with New­cas­tle; a tal­ented in­di­vid­ual, who too of­ten goes miss­ing when the pres­sure is on.

Ben­itez was gam­bling by giv­ing him the arm­band, but it worked. Sis­soko thrived with the ex­tra re­spon­si­bil­ity, worked harder than any­one and those around him re­sponded to it. “I was re­ally pleased for him,” said the New­cas­tle man­ager. “I wanted to give him some con­fi­dence and I said he has a lot of in­flu­ence with the French play­ers be­cause they see him as a big name and a big player.”

Swansea were well beaten in the end, but they should have been level be­fore Sis­soko scored the sec­ond goal. Ash­ley Wil­liams, Jef­fer­son Mon­tero and Bafé­timbi Gomis all missed good chances, but the Welsh club could be for­given for their off­day given how well they have done since Francesco Guidolin ar­rived as man­ager in Jan­uary.

“I know how foot­ball is and we have done very well in the last few weeks,” said Guidolin. “I would like my play­ers to play like they did against Chelsea ev­ery week, but foot­ball does not work like that.”

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