Rafa Benitez praises Newcastle's mentality after precious victory at Stoke
Last Updated: 01/01/18 8:39pm
Rafa Benitez praised Newcastle's fighting spirit after his side poured more misery on Mark Hughes' Stoke with a 1-0 win at the bet365 Stadium.
Ayoze Perez's winner 17 minutes from time meant 2018 kicked off in the same vein as 2017 ended for Hughes, who has now overseen seven defeats in his last 10 matches.
Newcastle's second win in 13 matches moves them up three places to 13th and they are now four points clear of the Premier League relegation zone.
"We started really well this season then we had a bad run and lost confidence - but still the team was working hard," Benitez said.
"It is one thing me as a manager saying the players are working and don't give up, but you could see it today. It was an example of a team working hard.
"Stoke worked so hard and it was difficult for us."
Perez's strike was Newcastle's first goal at the bet365 Stadium since November 2012 after a run of four matches there without a goal.
Benitez decided to play both Perez and Christian Atsu as a front pair and was delighted with the way they linked up.
"The understanding was good between both," he added.
"The rest of the team helped with good passes and after they defended all together, that was the key.
"We needed to cope with Stoke's pressure. They put in crosses and we did well.
"We had two or three counter-attacks that could have finished the game."