LONDON • Rafael Benitez believes Newcastle's battling display during the 1-1 draw with Manchester City proved that they can beat the drop into English football's second-tier Championship.
The Magpies are not going quietly. They are not going down without a fight. As St James' Park reverberated with passionate, unconditional support, Benitez's side gave everything, attacking hungrily and securing a deserved point when Vurnon Anita equalised.
A point against City's talented side was hugely important while the spirited display will give Newcastle hope they can stay up.
Karl Darlow was superb in goal, Jamaal Lascelles exuded authority at centre-back, while Jack Colback was tireless in midfield. The demanding Benitez has organised Newcastle and given them a structure. No wonder the local fans sang his name with gusto.
There was some encouragement for City, and England, with Raheem Sterling coming on for his first action since suffering a groin injury 30 days ago.
With City having one eye on their Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, there was the welcome sight of Vincent Kompany completing 90 minutes, although understandably rusty. There was also delight in Sergio Aguero scoring his 100th Premier League goal.
THE RELEGATION BATTLE
17TH NORWICH (31PTS)
May 1: Arsenal (A)
May 7: Man United (H)
May 12: Watford (H)
May 15: Everton (A)
18TH SUNDERLAND (30PTS)
April 24: Arsenal (H)
April 30: Stoke (A)
May 7: Chelsea (H)
May 12: Everton (H)
May 15: Watford (A)
19TH NEWCASTLE (29PTS)
April 23: Liverpool (A)
April 30: Crystal Palace (H)
May 7: Aston Villa (A)
May 15: Tottenham (H)
On a topsy-turvy night on the Toon, it had to be him seizing the limelight first. It had to be the stocky Argentinian striker finding the mark, reaching a famous Premier League landmark. He needed only 15 minutes to demonstrate his finishing precocity, although replays showed he was clearly in an offside position but the flag was not raised by assistant referee Dave Bryan.
Yet Newcastle fought hard, striving for an equaliser, which came from an unlikely source. Anita had not scored for 57 games, dating back to March 1, 2014 in a 4-1 win over Hull. Few expected another when he took Moussa Sissoko's long cross-field pass in his stride, knocking it forward. City still had six players in the box, but their reaction was too sluggish.
Maybe they did not expect Anita, a midfielder playing at right-back, to go for goal. But when the Dutchman let fly after the half-hour mark with his left, the ball sped low and hard into the City net, travelling with such speed the back-draught would have blown out the 29 candles on Joe Hart's birthday cake, let alone beaten him.
The mood immediately changed. Such was the joy unconfined among the Newcastle fans that one, a young woman, leapt into the press box and kissed a reporter, and he was not even the club's preferred media partner.
There was more intensity to Newcastle's movement, more confidence. The second half was frantic, City determined to cement their position in the top four, while Newcastle were engaged in the relegation death dance. They lived nervily at times.
But when the final whistle blew with a precious point for Benitez's side, his players departed to a standing ovation.
Next up will be a trip to Anfield to face Benitez's former club.
"Hopefully Liverpool will do me a favour," the Newcastle manager said.
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN