ROB ELLIOT has rounded on the critics for slamming Newcastle United’s negative approach against Manchester City by claiming Rafael Benitez proved once again why he is one of the best tactical managers around.

Despite losing 1-0 to the runaway Premier League leaders at St James’ Park on Wednesday, there has still been a split of opinion as to whether Benitez was right to set the Magpies up like he did.

Even though there was a full-house at St James’ Park for the visit of Pep Guardiola’s excellent side, the Newcastle boss felt that defending in numbers from the very first whistle was the way to get a result.

And the scoreline, with many fearing a heavy defeat given the difference in class between the two squads, has been ammunition to the supporters who felt it was the right way to go – particularly because they could have pinched a point in the end after being utterly dominated for 75 minutes.

Nevertheless Newcastle still lost, with Sky Sports’ Champions League winners Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville heavily critical of setting up with 11 men behind the ball at home in a top-flight fixture.

But Elliot, proud to have only been beaten once against a fantastic City side, said: “We had a gameplan. We were never going to go toe-to-toe with Manchester City - teams have done that this season and conceded six, seven and eight.

"Our idea was to stay in the game as long as possible, build well and then we had some chances to nick a draw at the end.

"We need to be realistic and the manager is tactically fantastic, he set us out well and we were disappointed with the goal we conceded. But it was only one goal, and we almost got something.

"We've got to be realistic about where we are at the moment, but at 1-0 against anyone you've always got a chance.

"We always knew they would have a lot of the ball, but we set out with a gameplan and I thought we executed it really well, showed great attitude and desire, and the fans appreciated that - especially towards the end when the atmosphere was incredible. Unfortunately we couldn't get the goal.”

Despite Newcastle’s defensive efforts, Manchester City did get ahead when Raheem Sterling got in behind the backline to apply the sliding volley to Kevin de Bruyne’s clever pass. Even though Benitez could have adopted more of an attacking mindset, Elliot thinks that defending is the squad’s strongest way forward.

The Newcastle goalkeeper, who made an outstanding stop from Sergio Aguero, said: "We've got to be realistic. We can't to toe-to-toe with Manchester City, if we do that then we'll get absolutely annihilated like teams have done already this season.

"We're not ashamed of that, we've got to play to our strengths, which is being compact, being defensive, hitting big Joselu with some balls forward, and then Dwight Gayle and Christian Atsu at the end too.

"We did that really well late on against City. It didn't quite come off for us in the end, but the lads can hold their heads high and we could walk away with pride. On a different day, it could have ended with a positive result for us."

Before Newcastle next face Manchester City at the Etihad on January 20, the focus will be on three games where the focus will be on winning. After Saturday’s visit of Brighton, Newcastle face Stoke on New Year’s Day and then Swansea at home after the FA Cup tie with Luton.

If Newcastle want to stay out of the relegation zone then they can’t afford to be slipping up having won just won of their last 11 Premier League games.

Elliot said: "We need points from the next two games. When you look at the table, it's obviously great if you can take points from teams like Man City or the big boys but the main thing is to pick up points from the teams in and around you.

“We know we have another two opportunities to do that between now and New Year's Day.

"We have got to get our focus back on Brighton and Stoke, and we have to make sure we stick to what we are good at and build on from the positive performances against Arsenal and West Ham.

"Man City was a bit of a different game because you don't play against Man City every week - thank God - but the next two games are massive and hopefully that can push us positively into the New Year."

And the players have all been encouraged to build on the last two performances, a win at West Ham and narrow defeat to City, by Benitez.

Elliot said: "He's definitely pleased with the workrate and the desire. He said to us before the game: 'If we think we're better than them, we won't get anything. If we think we're not good enough to be on the same pitch as them, we won't get anything. What we've got to do is work hard and show desire.'

"I believe we did that, and it nearly paid off. If we show that same desire and same mentality against the next two teams, then hopefully we can get two very important results."