Rafael Benitez once again remained coy over his future at Newcastle after his side signed off their Premier League campaign with an impressive victory at relegated Fulham.
The 59-year-old’s contract is set to expire on 30 June and talks have been ongoing with club chiefs for several weeks, with the Spanish manager previously stating that the ball was in their court.
Earlier this season Benitez suggested he requires a transfer budget that will allow the Magpies to make the step up after a second successive mid-table finish.
He told BBC’s Match of the Day: “We meet hopefully this week and see where we are. We have plenty of time to enjoy, I have been very clear about the potential of this club.”
Under the gaze of owner Mike Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley, the ex-Liverpool boss strengthened his position as the Magpies barely broke sweat on their way to a thumping victory at Craven Cottage.
They were two goals up in a two-minute spell early in the match. Midfielder Jonjo Shelvey ended his year-long run without a goal with a thunderous half-volley from just inside the area before Ayoze Perez grabbed his 13th of the season when he tucked home after goalkeeper Sergio Rico failed to adequately deal with Christian Atsu’s shot.
Defender Fabian Schar nodded in the Magpies’ third just after the hour mark before Salomon Rondon capped off his own brilliant display with an angled strike which produced the loudest cheer of the afternoon.
The Magpies finish in 13th with 45 points, one more than they managed last season, and Scott Parker’s side end their campaign in 19th and with 26 points.
Fulham’s fragile defence suffers again
A penny for Scott Parker’s thoughts as he stood in deep contemplation during the final stages of the match.
The former assistant was handed the top job permanently this week and with it the task of reinvigorating an expensively-assembled outfit that many expected to do well, but in the end failed to meet acceptable standards.
He said after his appointment that “success comes from a foundation, that foundation comes from a culture and setting standards on a daily basis”.
In the first few minutes of the match, his side set high standards as they tested the visiting defence with balls flung in from both wings – Aleksandar Mitrovic went close with a header that drifted a foot wide of Martin Dubravka’s post.
The ex-Newcastle striker also had a chance with another header that should have found the target but aside from that, and a good strike by 16-year-old substitute Harvey Elliott, the Slovak keeper had a fairly quiet day at the office.
It has been their defence which has been been Fulham’s Achilles heel. Every time Newcastle attacked, they looked liable to concede. Rondon’s late strike was the 81st conceded in the league this season – five more than bottom club Huddersfield.
Top of Parker’s summer shopping list must be a new backline.
Magpies end the season on a high – questions remain
For the second successive season finale, Benitez walked out on to the turf at the final whistle with a smile wider than the mouth of the Tyne.
It was mission accomplished after another campaign in which his side flirted with the relegation places. Aside from unanswered questions over his own future there remains the unresolved issue over whether the club will sign 12-goal striker Rondon on a permanent deal.
The Venezuelan and Perez have combined brilliantly in the second part of the season to lift the Magpies away from the scrap to avoid the drop. However, it was Shelvey, a less influential fixture this season, who set the visitors on their way with a exceptional strike which flew past the reach of Sergio Rico.
Soon after the restart Perez, arguably Newcastle’s player of the season, tapped in his sixth goal in five games after the ball from Atsu’s blocked shot came back to him.
Schar, who will be remembered for his 25-yard cracker against Burnley, headed in his fourth of the season after the break before Rondon rounded off a fitting climax for himself and his team in the 90th minute.
Benitez added: “This group of players from beginning until the end have worked really hard. We never gave up, even when we were safe in the last three games they were still giving everything.
“We have one more point than last season but couldn’t finish 10th so it proves this season has been more difficult than last season.”
Man of the match – Salomon Rondon (Newcastle)
‘It will be foot to the floor’ – the quotes
Fulham manager Scott Parker: “It is frustrating, really frustrating. We had become a bit more resilient but today I felt at times there were signs of the old us.
“When the game becomes a basketball match for us, which I mean back and forth, we are the side that look like they are going to concede.
“Of course it has been a disappointing season but in football as quick as you are down you are always around the corner from a new challenge and the new challenge is the Championship next season. There were signs in our play today of what we are trying to do and that is something I love but, of course, there are some other things I am not keen on.
“We will be in tomorrow and will go through the finer details of pre-season. We will take a break next week and then it will be foot to the floor.”
Perez on fire again – the stats
- Newcastle have won their first league match at Craven Cottage since December 2007 – after a run of six defeats away at Fulham.
- Newcastle have scored four goals away from home in a league match for the first time since September 2016 (6-0 v Queens Park Rangers).
- There was just 124 seconds between Shelvey’s opener and Perez’s second for Newcastle in their match against Fulham.
- Fulham conceded two goals in the first 11 minutes of the match against Newcastle – the earliest they had conceded twice in a Premier League game since May 2011 v Liverpool.
- Matt Ritchie has provided 20 league assists since his Newcastle debut in August 2016; seven more than any other player.
- Eight of Newcastle’s last 15 Premier League goals have been scored by Perez.
- Perez is one of four players to score 10 Premier League goals in 2019 along with Liverpool’s Sadio Mane (14), Leicester’s Jamie Vardy (12) and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero (12).