First Benitez win boosts Newcastle survival hopes
Newcastle United earned Rafael Benitez a first win as manager and boosted their Premier League survival prospects with a vital 3-0 victory over Swansea City on Saturday.
Newcastle’s hopes of remaining in the top flight had looked slim following a dire performance in last weekend’s 3-1 defeat at Southampton.
Benitez made five changes to the starting XI in response to that display and the Spaniard’s team selection was vindicated on his birthday, with Newcastle earning their reward for a much-improved showing.
Jamaal Lascelles, who came in for Steven Taylor in the back four as part of the alterations, opened the scoring in the 40th minute, heading home only his second goal for the club from Andros Townsend’s corner.
Jefferson Montero and Bafetimbi Gomis both spurned big chances for Swansea before Moussa Sissoko’s first goal of the campaign and Townsend’s late third sealed a result that, combined with north-east rivals Sunderland’s 3-0 win at Norwich City, moves Newcastle within three points of safety with five games to play.
The hosts made a bright start at St James’ Park and drew Lukasz Fabianski into action as Vurnon Anita’s cross-cum-shot forced the former Arsenal goalkeeper to claw the ball away from goal.
The Magpies continued to have the better of a scrappy first half but struggled to make the most of their periods of superiority, with Jack Colback’s tame effort after the midfielder had latched onto a flick on from Papiss Cisse indicative of Newcastle’s issues in the final third.
But they were finally rewarded for their good play in the opening 45 minutes when Swansea failed to deal with Townsend’s corner from the left, which was turned in by Lascelles at the near post despite Fabianski getting a heavy touch to the ball.
Benitez’s men would have doubled their lead early in the second term had a Newcastle player been able to get a touch to a delivery from Townsend, who then found Colback on the edge of the area, only for the ex-Sunderland midfielder to curl over.
With the missed chances piling up, nerves began to set in for Newcastle, as Swansea enjoyed some threatening passages of play without really testing goalkeeper Karl Darlow.
Newcastle struggled to retain possession in the second 45 minutes and should have been punished in the 71st minute, Swansea captain Ashley Williams lashing narrowly wide after Chancel Mbemba failed to properly clear a cross from the left wing.
Montero then hit wide at the far post with only Darlow to beat and Gomis blasted over following great work from fellow substitute Modou Barrow.
And Swansea were made to pay eight minutes from time as Sissoko fired in from close range after Aleksandar Mitrovic’s blocked header bounced into his path, with the Serbian then setting up Townsend to slot home and wrap up the points late on.
Key Opta Stats:
– Andros Townsend has already assisted as many Premier League goals for Newcastle United (2) in eight appearances as he did for Tottenham (50).
– Townsend has been involved in four goals in his last three Premier League games (two goals, two assists).
– Moussa Sissoko scored his first Premier League goal since the final day of last season.
– Swansea City lost an away Premier League game by a three-goal margin for the first time since December 2014 at Liverpool (1-4).
– Newcastle kept only their second clean sheet in their last 18 Premier League games.
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