Why Rafa Benitez’s decision to leave Aleksandar Mitrovic on the bench at Barnsley appears telling

Why Rafa Benitez's decision to leave Aleksandar Mitrovic on the bench at Barnsley appears telling

As the 5,900-strong travelling Toon Army partied wildly once Dwight Gayle expertly lifted the ball over Barnsley goalkeeper Adam Davies and into the back of the net, the Newcastle United players most certainly joined in the celebrations. The Magpies’ No 9 – who has 11 goals in 11 league games in that famous shirt – let out his emotions in front of the packed away stand, before being mobbed by his team-mates who knew that second goal had killed the game with more than 20 minutes to spare. Those team-mates weren’t just the other nine outfield players who had started the game, but included the substitutes who were warming up. Aleksandar Mitrovic in particular sprinted from the touchline and proceeded to throw himself on top of the huddle of Magpies players celebrating, almost riding along in a crowd-surf motion. Curiously, that was the most we saw of Mitrovic all evening. Given that Benitez himself, as well as all the pundits, suggested ahead of this game that we could learn a heck of a lot about Newcastle on a Tuesday night at an old-school, tight and atmospheric ground like Oakwell – where the amenities are about as far removed from the Premier League as United will face this term – then the fact we only glimpsed Mitrovic celebrating as an unused substitute appeared to be telling.
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Once Gayle had bagged his second of the evening – and 11th of the campaign – in the 68th minute, the game was won. The home fans knew it, the Barnsley players knew it – and so did the travelling Toon Army. United have conceded just two goals away from home all season, have only shipped one on the road since the opening day, and had kept four clean sheets – now five – on their travels this season. For Benitez to not turn to Mitrovic and hand the Serbian even a token final 10 or 15 minutes in south Yorkshire seemed, in itself, to be revealing. Yes Mitrovic may have been forced to sit out the opening three Championship matches of the season through suspension, and then he missed the Brighton and Hove Albion win with mild concussion. But there have been no medical reasons and no suspensions to explain why the 22-year-old has started just one league game since then, at Queens Park Rangers. Read More Jamaal Lascelles watch: How Newcastle captain is delivering defensive discipline Benitez demands He has only been introduced as a substitute on four occasions as well. One of those was at Villa Park, when Benitez sent on Mitrovic in order to hold up the ball and help United through until the final whistle. Instead, the Serbian attempted a flick near his own box which led to an Aston Villa corner – and eventually their equ…

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