The noise grew. "Rafael’s black and white army." Five minutes of injury-time were almost up, a game had already been won and there was the chance to make a statement, so Newcastle’s supporters did.
Those in the corner of St James’ Park were on their feet. The chant swelled around the stadium.
Newcastle United are having one of their rare, problem-free periods, so it was a chance to address the bigger picture.
Benitez’s contract ticks down, and any moves to reopen talks are not expected until when (moving dramatically away from the ‘if’ of about six weeks ago) safety is officially confirmed.
Not for him, Leicester, or the possibility of going there, though short-listed. His lot remains high but alternatives are few in England, where he wishes to stay. He remains hugely popular to those in black and white, and, as last season, he has timed the recovery of his team impressively well.
As with last year, where Newcastle ended the season in tenth place, he did not drive hi players into the ground in summer pre-season and has upped the tempo for the closing straight. In that, Newcastle look fresh and strong. Victory took their tally to 13 points from the last 18 on offer.
Benitez likes his numbers and by full-time Newcastle were seven points clear of third bottom Southampton with a superior goal difference.
It was the lack of angst at St James’ that presented such a contrast to the mood when Manchester City arrived just four weeks ago. Then rebellion was quelled by victory and the breaking of a long-held transfer record following the £20m capture of Miguel Almiron.
As with his home debut on Saturday against Huddersfield, the Paraguayan showed searing pace and a desire to drive his new side forward. He shot wide in the first half and was denied by a rare stray touch, as he broke through, in the second. He is also 25, which means he fits the owner Mike Ashley’s preference of how recruitment should work.
Do not underestimate the difference in belief of how the playing squad should be built between owner and manager. It is another bridge to be built if Benitez’s tenure is to be extended.
Newcastle’s lead came after just 24 minutes, a short ball inside, around 30 yards from goal, from the recalled Javier Manquillo found Fabian Schar, the central defender took a touch and then smashed a 25-yard drive that had such power Tom Heaton could not even lay a glove on it, the ball striking the post as it flew into his goal.
Less than quarter-of-an-hour later, Matt Ritchie crossed left footed from the byline, Salomon Rondon’s presence was such that the ball reached Sean Longstaff and the midfielder, a revelation this season, took a touch before smashing a right footed shot past Heaton and the despairing Charlie Taylor.
There had been a fine save from Martin Dubravka in the 27th minute, beating away a close ranger effort on the turn form Ben Mee. In first half injury-time, James Tarkowski volleyed with what looked like his calf with the goal at his mercy, inside the Newcastle penalty area, from a set piece.
There was more of that from Burnley after the break. Tarkowski headed over and a Peter Crouch inspired goalmouth scrambled clear. Almiron flicked a shot over the bar and Ritchie drilled a shot wide.
The crowd roused at the game’s close. Benitez’s name swirled around the stadium. It is a major issue, lurking, but for once, Tyneside felt relatively calm.
Newcastle (5-4-1): Dubravka; Manquillo, Schar, Lascelles, Lejeune, Ritchie; Hayden, Longstaff (Diame 84); Perez (Joselu 87), Almiron (Dummett 80); Rondon.
Burnley (4-4-2): Heaton; Bardsley, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor; Gudmundsson, Hendrick, Cork, McNeil (Brady 46); Barnes (Crouch 71), Wood (Vydra 83).
Referee: Mr Craig Pawson
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