IT WAS Napoleon Bonaparte who once famously said: “I know he is a good general, but is he lucky?”
If Rafael Benitez is a student of military history, then he will have perhaps been minded to appreciate the above statement on Saturday evening.
This particular battlefield in Huddersfield was the sort of high-stakes, swords-drawn occasion which has brought out the best in the Newcastle United manager for much of his decorated dug-out career in high-profile venues such as Istanbul and Turin.
Typically, Benitez did not let anyone down again, as he masterfully orchestrated his regimented troops from his technical area with cool detachment amid the sort of a throbbing, highly-charged atmosphere which he relishes in his own particular way.
But a touch or two of fortune in the heat of battle can go a long way – as it did at Huddersfield and also four nights earlier for Newcastle at Brighton. It is inescapable to avoid the impression that it is written in the stars that the Tynesiders will be back in the big time in May.
Even accounting for Newcastle’s outstanding defensive organisation, which was worthy of considerable praise on the night and bore all the hallmarks of a Benitez side, it was fate which yielded them another significant win.
It was to David Wagner’s credit that he did not overly berate two huge moments which went against him and for his opposite number on a seismic night at the top of the Championship.
With another key home game against Aston Villa coming up tomorrow evening, the German’s belief that Huddersfield must not stew on Saturday’s developments and quickly turn the page is admirable and sensible.
But deep down, he must have been thinking ‘if only’.
As Huddersfield supporters will, too, while lamenting the part played in proceedings by Select Group official Roger East.
The Wiltshire whistle-blower has ‘previous’ when it comes to Newcastle’s visits to Yorkshire this season, with the Magpies scoring a contentious winner at Rotherham United on October 1 when the Millers were convinced that there was a foul in the build-up to Christian Atsu’s strike.
The fury was off the scale on Saturday following a soft early penalty award for the visitors, won and converted by Matt Ritchie and another hugely controversial second goal scored by Daryl Murphy.
In fairness, the decision to award Huddersfield a spot-kick 18 minutes from time – fired home by Aaron Mooy – looked decidedly generous, too, and said everything about East’s thoroughly unsatisfactory evening.
Wagner’s belief that fine details would decide Saturday’s game ultimately proved a shrewd one and while Newcastle undeniably had the better of the big calls, their game management was peerless and drew nods of acknowledgement from Town’s head coach.
The hosts had opportunities, but the fact that they almost all exclusively arrived from distance said everything about the text-book way in which the Magpies protected their lead despite enjoying just 24 per cent possession.
For a technocrat like Benitez, it was a job well done and one duly noted by Wagner, although it helps when you are afforded a cheap two-goal platform.
A 10th-minute penalty lit the fuse with East failing to spot a handball in the build-up from Jonjo Shelvey before compounding the error by penalising Nahki Wells after the faintest of brushes against the leg of Ritchie, whose fall was as threatrical as his spot-kick was emphatic.
Murphy’s second was more open to conjecture, with it being a moot point as to whether Danny Ward had the ball fully under control after racing out and challenging the Irish forward, who competently steered the loose ball home after it spilled from the Town goalkeeper’s grasp.
But once again a big call went against Town facing a side whose away statistics are the best in the division by a country mile.
Creditably, Town refused to feel sorry for themselves as some sides may have done in their position.
Efforts from distance from Philip Billing and Aaron Mooy enabled Karl Darlow to showcase why he is one of the division’s most accomplished goalkeepers and, after the break, it was the turn of Newcastle’s high-class central defensive pairing of Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark to exhibit their talents.
Town reprised elements of the form which recently floored Leeds and Brighton, with Mooy pulling the strings and Rajiv Van La Parra also posing problems in particular but the visitors were resolute.
They were temporarily threatened when Mooy fired home from the spot after Shelvey was penalised for a soft push on Elias Kachunga.
Newcastle were not to be denied despite being asked more searching questions on the road than they have been for most of this term and substitute Dwight Gayle walked in a late third when goalkeeper Joel Coleman – who came on at the break for Ward – misjudged a headed clearance.
The hosts could not breach the visitors’ iron-clad wall again as the Geordies claimed their fourth successive win in Yorkshire – after earlier triumphs in Leeds, Barnsley and Rotherham.
The Toon Army would have been forgiven for breaking into a chorus of Ilkley Moor Baht’at as they left Huddersfield, the venue where they clinched promotion on their previous league visit at the end of the 1983-84 season.
Newcastle will again be popping Champagne corks in May but Town, still third, may yet be joining them in a glass or two.