Spring is a beautiful time of year, but the end of promotion chasing campaigns are often dreary and grim. Newcastle were functional rather than thrilling against Wigan Athletic, but that is all you need to be in April.
Newcastle are grinding their way back to the Premier League, stuttering and stumbling at times, yet impressively relentless in their pursuit of promotion. In that respect, Rafa Benitez is doing everything he promised when he agreed to remain as manager last year.
Nevertheless, while he has effortlessly captured hearts on Tyneside, he is no romantic. Benitez will not take Newcastle up with a flourish because he leads with pragmatism rather than flair. It is substance over style.
Other popular Newcastle managers have been more swashbuckling, but, at the moment, none of that matters; nobody seems to care. Wigan were in this game until the end, but they were beaten and Newcastle are now 10 points clear of third-placed Huddersfield.
“We are not playing well enough to beat teams by four or five like we did at the start of the season, but we are doing what we need to do,” said Benitez. “I’m happy with the win, we are another step closer to where we want to be, that is all that concerns me.”
After a drab first half an hour, Newcastle remembered that it is quick passes that spring defences. Having only threatened through set-pieces, they finally produced a move of Premier League quality. Vurnon Anita slipped a ball into the path of Mo Diame, who immediately fired it across the six- yard box, leaving Dwight Gayle with a half-volley tap-in at the far post.
Wigan equalised early in the second half when Michael Jacobs skipped through a tackle from Jamaal Lascelles, but Newcastle retook the lead quickly when Matt Ritchie scored at the second attempt in front of the Gallowgate End.
Wigan manager, Graham Barrow, was involved in a heated exchange with the Newcastle’s bench moments later when Ritchie had a penalty appeal turned down, but Benitez kept his eyes on the pitch and the prize.
“It was just heat of the moment stuff,” said Barrow, who repeatedly screamed obscenities during the row with Newcastle’s backroom staff. “We shook hands at the end. I thought they had the rub of the green, but we were never out of it.”
Newcastle United (4-2-3-1) Darlow 6 ; Anita 7, Lascelles 4, Hanley 6, Dumett 6; Colback 6, Shelvey 7; Ritchie 7, Diame 7 (Atsu 63), Gouffran 5 (Hayden 70); Gayle 7 (Perez 80)
Subs not used Elliot, Mbemba, Gamez, Mitrovic
Wigan Athletic (4-2-3-1) Gilks 6; Power 6, Buxton 7, Burn 7, Warnock 7; Macdonald 6 (Morgan 60), Hanson 7; Connolly 6, Morsy 5 (Gilbey 46), Jacobs 7; Bogle 5 (Colclough 46).
Subs not used Perkins, Obertan, Haugaard, Byrne.