EPL: Benitez’s Newcastle end winless start
Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez said his players “showed what they can do” as the Magpies claimed their first win of the season against Watford at St James’ Park.
Ayoze Perez headed Ki Sung-yueng’s in-swinging free-kick past Ben Foster in the second half to end the hosts’ winless run and lift them out of the relegation zone.
The Magpies rode their luck in the first half, with Watford duo Adrian Mariappa and Gerard Deulofeu both guilty of spurning excellent opportunities to put the Hornets ahead.
But Newcastle – who lost Yoshinori Muto, Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey to injury before the hour mark – improved after the break to earn their first home points of the season.
“I think [the win] was important for everyone,” said Benitez.
“To win against a good team with a lot of confidence, to win in the way that we did with everyone behind the team – and with three players coming from the bench and making a great contribution – was very positive.”
Benitez’s team came under intense pressure in the first half as Mariappa scuffed a shot wide moments after seeing a close-range header hacked off the line, before Deulofeu dragged a tame effort off target following a delightful through-ball from Abdoulaye Doucoure.
Roberto Pereyra rattled the crossbar in the opening minutes of the second half, but Newcastle held on to climb into 17th above Cardiff and Fulham.
“It’s important for everyone to see that the team is capable to perform and compete,” added Benitez.
“If you are in a better position in the table, the players will have more confidence.”
Magpies ride their luck
Newcastle failed to register a single shot on target against Southampton last weekend, and the Magpies struggled to create clear-cut opportunities once again on home turf, testing Foster on just two occasions.
The Watford custodian’s only save in the first 45 minutes came from Mohamed Diame’s long-range drive, while Salomon Rondon – making his first Premier League start since 22 September – cut an isolated figure in attack.
Kenedy broke clear of the Hornets’ defence midway through the first half, but the Chelsea loanee’s powerful shot was blocked by Mariappa.
The hosts improved after the break, with Perez scoring Newcastle’s first home goal since a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal on 15 September.
Benitez will hope the win proves a turning point for the Magpies, who host Bournemouth next Saturday.
Watford inflicted the Magpies’ heaviest defeat at St James’ Park last season, and manager Javi Gracia will feel his team should have registered another three points after a dominant performance in the North East.
The Hornets laid siege to the home goal in the first half but only managed one shot on target over the course of 90 minutes.
Deulofeu – who scored his first goal since February in the 3-0 victory over struggling Huddersfield last weekend – missed a hat-trick of chances before the break.
The former Barcelona and Everton attacker scuffed a shot wide from close range before firing harmlessly off target from Doucoure’s pass.
He then drilled a low effort into the side-netting as Newcastle somehow managed to go in to half-time with their clean sheet still intact.
Pereyra was unlucky not to break the deadlock shortly after the interval with a fierce shot that rebounded off the crossbar, but it wasn’t to be for Gracia’s men who slipped to their fourth league defeat of the season.
Man of the match – Ayoze Perez (Newcastle)
Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez: “In my opinion we deserved to win before today, but to do it today with the team working so hard and with the fans behind us was good.
“We had three injury problems and three substitutions but the reaction was good. It is a great three points.
“All three players really contributed, we needed energy and commitment from everyone and the three players quickly focused and did what they had to do.”
“If you don’t score, then from a free-kick Newcastle can score. We need to improve for the next game. I can be disappointed with the result but not with my players.
“I like to be demanding and want us to finish better, but we have played well and need to keep this level. Today was a missed opportunity but that is football.”