Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Rotation Turns into Frustration; Replacements Let Rafa Benitez Down

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Rotation Turns into Frustration; Replacements Let Rafa Benitez Down

Article excerpt

Byline: JOHNGIBSON

WELL, it didn't work, did it? Rafa's gambled brilliantly all season on his team shuffles but he spectacularly lost his opportunity to write himself into Newcastle's history by sacrificing victory before 52,000 of the faithful.

Not only did United fail to make it 10 wins in a row but they actually contrived to lose all three points.

Rafa's team sheet alone made me shiver, rather than the cold November air hanging over St James' Park.

Hindsight is an easy vision but I must say I voiced my fears to all within earshot before kick-off and sadly it came to pass.

Big-hitters galore went under Rafa's hammer - topscorer Dwight Gayle, skipper Jamaal Lascelles, workaholic Yoan Gouffran and regular left-back Paul Dummett among them. All rotated, all fit but on the subs' bench.

Six changes from a superb victory at Leeds was an undoubted risk, many of them the cornerstones Benitez had resisted resting in previous shuffles.

The team sheet a suicide note? No, nothing like Ruud Gullit against Sunderland when he stuck Alan Shearer and Duncan Ferguson on the bench and lost at home but either brave in the extreme or the extravagant throw of a Las Vegas gambler on a roll.

What is more, a stubborn Rafa did not make a tactical substitution until six minutes from time when Gayle was at last unleashed in the dying embers of the game with United already behind.

The Magpies were poor throughout, playing without conviction or quickness when they had previously made whirlwind starts to put opposition on the back foot.

All was heightened by their two most controversial starters, Alexsandar Mitrovic and Christian Atsu, being particularly non-existent.

As good as Gayle was at Elland Road with his relentless movement and hounding of Leeds' back four, Mitro was shocking as his replacement.

Much more static, he reacted all afternoon instead of anticipated. He got there just after his marker because he was on his heels and in the air, where his muscle is supposed to count, he jumped listlessly and missed out time and again.

Atsu was typical of a winger who plays on tricks. …

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