The roar swirled around the stadium. Craig Pawson had allowed the game to reach the sixth minute of injury-time before he blew, to send a wave of relief through St James’ Park.
Players in black and white hugged each other. Ki fell to his knees. Finally, Newcastle had their win, a first at the 11th time of asking, and their first points at home all season. A record was avoided, in victory Newcastle moved out of the relegation zone.
By hook, and by crook, and with injuries and a green onslaught at times form those from Watford, Newcastle found a way. Sometimes that’s all football is about.
Ayoze Perez came off the bench to score the winning goal, midway through the second half. He held his fingers to his ears in celebration.
Javi Garcia led an inquest directly to Pawson at full-time, but this victory was about his side’s failings in front of goal, not about Pawson.
Quite how Watford were not ahead at the break was a mystery, and one that perhaps only Gerard Deulofeu could truly solve.
Four times he was afforded the opportunity to put the visitors ahead, each time, spurned, to the increasing disbelief of his manager, Javi Gracia. There was a fine chance spurned by Adrian Mariappa and then two on the stroke of half-time through Isaac Success.
The lack of noise inside St James’ Park for that period reflected that dominance. Craig Cathcart’s misplaced pass in the 26th minute sent through Kenedy, but the Brazilian, on his weaker right foot, was denied by a saving tackle from Mariappa. That was largely it from the home side, aside a Mo Diame shot.
Mariappa should have already given his side the lead by then. A right wing corner found the central defender unmarked and his first effort was blocked by Jamaal Lascelles before he fired the rebound wide.
Lascelles had already made a fine challenge to stop Deulofeu in the 13th minute, but the lesson was not heeded, and in the 21st minute a brilliant recovery from DeAndre Yedlin, to make up six yards on Deulofeu halted danger, albeit briefly.
Three minutes later a fine pass from Etienne Capouye opened up the home back line and Deulofeu, with just Dubravka to beat, shot wide of the far post. He did the same after another three minutes had passed, this time taking a cornfield ball from Success and with Dubravka committed off his line, his angels shot again went wide.
Capoue fried a free-kick over the bar and Newcastle, bereft of ideas did the same with their own set piece from a similar distance, Jonjo Shelvey, who, like Lascelles, slipped off injured, also shot over.
Deulofeu shot into the side netting of the Newcastle goal with three minutes left in the half and as it finished, Success had a shot deflected wide for a corner and then saw Dubravka deny him with his feet.
It did not point to the dramatic turnaround in the second half, when Newcastle finally found some momentum to fire into their season. Indeed the introduction of Ki for Shelvey in the 51st minute ended up helping the home side. First Newcastle again rode their, when Roberto Pereyra cracked a shot off the crossbar.
It was a key moment.
Kenedy volleyed wide soon after ad then, in the 65th minute, Newcastle finally took the lead in a game at St James’ Park. Ki won a free-kick just outside the corner of the Watford penalty area after a collision with Will Hughes.
The South Korean drilled a curling free-kick into the penalty area where Perez glanced a header past Ben Foster. Relief was all around the stadium. Benitez sat motionless, but his concern was undeniable in the closing stages, the Spaniard’s endless arm waving at his team.
They could have added a second, Rondon heading wide and only desperate defending from a Ki corner stopped another. There was still to be a saving challenge from Kenedy to deny Success, which gave Newcastle their first of the season, finally.
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