Newcastle were cruising at 2-0 with 15 minutes remaining against Bournemouth on Saturday, having dominated the match.
Two Dwight Gayle goals – both poached after goalkeeping errors – had the Magpies in the driving seat and they did not look like relinquishing the lead, despite Ayoze Perez’s awful close-range miss.
But Rafa Benitez made the decision to hook Gayle as Bournemouth sought a route back into the match, and the game turned in that moment.
Within seconds, Jonjo Shelvey blazed over the top from a position where Gayle would surely have netted, before Adam Smith swiftly punished Newcastle’s failures at the other end.
It was inevitable that Bournemouth would then pile on the pressure in the closing stages and, playing without a striker, Newcastle invited the hosts on.
Dan Gosling equalised with a minute of normal time remaining and Bournemouth could well have gone on to win the game.
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Rafa’s tactics have won Newcastle more points than they’ve lost them this season but, on this occasion, he got it wrong.
The Magpies boss later claimed that Gayle was injured, but he had Joselu on the bench – the Spaniard having held the ball up well to relieve pressure late in the win over Manchester United.
Bringing on Isaac Hayden in Gayle’s place was an error that quickly became apparent as Shelvey’s miss and Smith’s goal made it clear that Newcastle may well need to score again to take all three points.
But Rafa did not heed the warning, then replacing winger Matt Ritchie with full-back Javier Manquillo, further strengthening Bournemouth’s foothold in the game. Newcastle were punished.
With a manager as popular as Rafa, it is important that he is not immune to criticism, even if fans do not want to see him replaced as soon as he makes a bad call.
There have been a few questionable substitutions this season, but it has rarely been more obvious that the manager’s changes have cost the team points.
Rafa must learn from his mistakes just as his players should do also.