THERE have been a number of stand-out moments in Newcastle United’s season. The 2-1 win over Manchester City that saw the Magpies become one of only four teams to beat Pep Guardiola’s league leaders in the Premier League. Last weekend’s thrill-a-minute game at St James’ Park that almost saw Newcastle scupper Liverpool’s title hopes. The three wins in a row in November that did so much to transform the Magpies’ season.

Rafael Benitez could have chosen any of the above as his personal highlight, so it says much about the Newcastle manager’s perfectionist mindset that the first game that leaps into his mind when he is asked to assess the campaign that ends at Craven Cottage tomorrow afternoon is a 3-0 home defeat that most supporters would rather forget.

At the start of December, Newcastle hosted West Ham United hoping to build on victories over Watford, Bournemouth and Burnley and push into the top half of the table. Despite his side having performed superbly with a five-man defence at Turf Moor, Benitez opted to leave Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark on the bench and revert to a flat back four against West Ham. It is one of the few moments of the season he bitterly regrets.

“When I look back on the season, West Ham at home stands out for me as a bad game,” said Benitez, whose side could finish anywhere between 13th and 15th depending on tomorrow’s results. “We thought we were playing well, with three wins in a row, but then we played with four at the back and knew that could be a risk on the counter-attack. They were quite good on the break.

“These are the kind of games which decide whether you are in the top or bottom ten. That was one of the important games, and so were both of the matches against Wolves. We could have been a lot higher in the table (but for those games).

“Other games, like Man City and Everton, we were expecting the team to be good, but the timing of these games for us, especially West Ham, was crucial. Before, we were doing well, but then we did not progress, so that was the difference between finishing somewhere between eighth and 12th or maybe 15th of whatever.”

Benitez’s thoughts around Newcastle’s Player of the Year are also instructive when it comes to assessing his managerial methodology.

Understandably, he was reluctant to single out individuals for special praise or criticism, but when pushed, he flagged up Paul Dummett, the ultimate team player, as someone worthy of recognition.

“It is not fair for me to pick just one,” he said. “Even if you do not see someone playing really well and making a difference, he might still be doing something for the team which I like and which is necessary.

“We can say Ayoze is doing really well and Rondon is doing really well, but maybe someone like Dummett is making the difference. He came back from injury and has played as a full-back and a centre-back. He has been very helpful to the defence.”

Newcastle round off their season at Fulham tomorrow afternoon with a game that could mark the end of the road for a number of the club’s players. Mo Diame is set to leave as a free agent after he failed to make the requisite number of starts that would have triggered an automatic contract extension, while Isaac Hayden remains determined to move on this summer for family reasons.

Perez is the subject of sustained interest from clubs in Italy and Spain, and Rondon’s future remains uncertain, with his loan spell from West Brom due to conclude tomorrow.

Newcastle (possible, 3-4-2-1): Dubravka; Schar, Lascelles, Dummett; Manquillo, Hayden, Shelvey, Ritchie; Perez, Atsu; Rondon.