A JUBILANT Rafael Benitez is hoping Newcastle United’s stirring 1-0 win over Manchester United proves the catalyst for a successful survival battle in the final three months of the season.

The Magpies pulled two points clear of the relegation zone as Matt Ritchie’s second-half strike secured a first home win since the middle of October.

Benitez’s side were indebted to goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, who capped an excellent debut with a superb last-gasp save to deny Michael Carrick and ensure Newcastle claimed a first home win over Manchester United since the 2010-11 season.

The bottom half of the Premier League table is still extremely tight, with just six points separating the teams in tenth and 19th position, but having proved their mettle against a Manchester United side who remain in second, Benitez is hoping his players use yesterday’s success to drive them on in their final 11 matches.

“In so many games that we deserved to win, we were very close, but this one, against a top side, it was even better,” said the Newcastle boss. “At this time, it is a boost for everyone, and it keeps the team believing that we can win against any team.

“We have had a lot of games where the team was well organised and defending well, and today it was just a question of passion and commitment from everyone.

“My message to our fans, and I think they know it really well, is that this is a team that cares. The players do not give up and they continue working hard. We will have some limitations and some problems, but you could still see this was another game when they were giving everything, and that is the positive thing. If we understand that and are behind the players, they can perform like today.”

Newcastle rode their luck on occasion, with Dubravka making three fine saves and Florian Lejeune, DeAndre Yedlin and Dwight Gayle all making crucial blocks in the area, but the Magpies merited their victory thanks to their effort and application.

Lejeune and Jamaal Lascelles were excellent at the heart of the back four, while Jonjo Shelvey turned in a much-improved performance in midfield. As a result, Ritchie’s 65th-minute finish was decisive, with the Scotsman slotting home his first goal of the season after Gayle nudged Lejeune’s headed knock-down into his path.

“Hopefully it will not be my biggest win with Newcastle, hopefully we will have bigger wins than this one,” said Benitez.  “But it was a really great game against a very good team, a top side who everybody knows how good they are.

“The way we were playing, with everybody giving everything, was absolutely fantastic. And to do it in front of our fans was even better. We have been so close in so many games, and it was a pity not to win those. Today, we did well, although still we were a little bit lucky at the end. But I think the team deserved the three points.”

Huddersfield’s lunch-time win over Bournemouth had plunged Newcastle into the bottom three, but while Benitez and his squad had been aware of the result at the John Smith’s Stadium, it had not influenced their pre-match preparations.

“We knew that they (Huddersfield) had won, but at the same time, we know we have to try to win games,” he said. “That is it. We were very close in a lot of games, but we were unlucky.

“Today, we did very well, but we didn’t need to win because they (Huddersfield) won, we needed to win anyway.”

Jose Mourinho has now failed to win any of his seven league games at St James’ Park, and the Manchester United manager was full of respect for Newcastle’s efforts.

Mourinho bemoaned his side’s defending for Ritchie’s winner, and contrasted his own players’ lack of urgency in that situation to the frenzied effort that secured Newcastle all three points.

“First of all, Newcastle’s players and staff gave everything they have, and what they don’t have, and that is a beautiful thing,” said the Manchester United boss. “They came here today to fight for a point, but they found themselves in a position of being 1-0 up and from that moment, they went over all the limits in terms of effort, sacrifice and everything a manager likes to see in his team.

“I saw that in my team after the 1-0, I saw the desire to play and try to go to the last second, which we did, but I can imagine Benitez will be more than pleased with the effort of his players.

“Were they lucky? Yes, they were. But sometimes you attract that luck with your state of mind. After the 1-0, the Newcastle players fought for their lives, and that is a beautiful thing in football.”