Birthday gift for Benitez as Newcastle sink Swansea
Rafael Benitez got the perfect birthday present as Newcastle improved their prospects of avoiding relegation from the Premier League with a vital 3-0 win over Swansea on Saturday.
Benitez’s side ended a seven-match winless run as they secured three points for the first time since early February thanks to goals from Jamaal Lascelles, Moussa Sissoko and Andros Townsend at St James’ Park.
Benitez celebrated his 56th birthday on Saturday and the former Real Madrid and Liverpool boss has an extra reason to celebrate after a result that moved second bottom Newcastle to within three points of safety with a game in hand.
The Magpies still have plenty to do as they remain two points behind third bottom Sunderland, but their bitter rivals did them a favour by beating fourth bottom Norwich earlier in the day.
Newcastle had lost eight of their previous 10 matches and, desperately seeking a winning formula after banking only one point in four games since he took over from Steve McClaren, Benitez made five changes from last weekend’s defeat at Southampton.
Benitez called for his players to stick together and deliver the kind of committed display that would stop Newcastle’s disgruntled fans from turning against them.
They started brightly enough to keep the supporters onside and Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski had to claw away a cross from under his bar before making a low save to keep out Andros Townsend’s shot.
With Swansea’s safety effectively guaranteed, there was little for the visitors to play for and Newcastle were well on top by the time Papiss Cisse set up Jack Colback to shoot straight at Fabianski.
Townsend was next to test Fabianski with a low strike and Newcastle’s pressure was finally rewarded in the 41st minute.
Lascelles had questioned his team-mates’ desire in the aftermath of the Southampton loss and there was certainly no doubting the young defender’s commitment when he muscled his way past Gylfi Sigurdsson at a corner to power a header in off Fabianski.
Swansea, so lethargic in the first half, almost equalised immediately after the interval when Angel Rangel headed narrowly wide from Neil Taylor’s cross.
Suddenly, Newcastle were on the back foot and it took a brave block from Chancel Mbemba to stop Andre Ayew driving Swansea level, while Ashley Williams also went close for the visitors.
Benitez must have breathed a sigh of relief when Swansea’s Jefferson Montero somehow missed from eight yards after Bafetimbi Gomis played him in.
Newcastle were growing increasingly anxious and Gomis should have made them pay when he fired over from 12 yards.
But Sissoko eased the nerves in the 82nd minute when he lashed home after Swansea failed to clear a corner and Townsend sealed a much-needed win with a clinical finish seven minutes later.
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