They say that sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. Well, Newcastle United had to settle for the latter category after they were beaten by the team propping up the Premier League on Saturday at St James’ Park.
This one didn’t look good from the start against desperate West Bromwich Albion, as Newcastle fluffed their lines in the final third and lacked sharpness where and when it mattered.
Undoubtedly, the Baggies wanted it more and by the end that proved to be the crucial factor in what was an abject display for the sold-out crowd at St James’.
The urgency in the United team has now been replaced with end-of-season grogginess with Toon players knowing that the job is done and that Premier League football will be back on Tyneside next season.
It’s the reason that defeat at Everton on Monday night was met by a degree of understanding by the club’s fanbase, and while there were some tiny pockets of boos at the final whistle against West Brom, the wider verdict of supporters was to look at the bigger picture.
Not only is survival in the bag, but a top-10 finish could still be achieved by Benitez’s side in the last three games, and that’s something that very few people predicted at the start of the campaign.
So what did we learn about this group of players as they were narrowly beaten on a slightly disappointing afternoon?
Firstly, that Benitez is 100 per cent right in his theory that a decent amount of investment will be needed this summer if the club are to build positively on their first season back in the big time.
Consistency also proved to be an issue for some of the players, with Jonjo Shelvey unable to dig deep and replicate his performance levels of recent weeks.
There was also another reminder that United badly lack firepower in the final third as they couldn’t take the chances that came their way.
Dwight Gayle was unlucky to see his effort from close-range expertly beaten away by Ben Foster, and Kenedy was perhaps a little too casual when striking the bottom of the post, but just two shots on target against the worst club in the Prem tells its own story.
Ayoze Perez also had an off day and when Newcastle’s top scorers don’t step up and do the business, there’s not a lot in reserve.
Hopes were then pinned on Islam Slimani to create something after coming on from the bench, but the only thing that Benitez will have learned from his cameo was he may not be able to trust him.
Aleksandar Mitrovic wasn’t picked after getting involved in moments exactly like the one that will probably land Slimani a three-game ban.
There was no need to kick out at Craig Dawson and it was hardly going to go unnoticed.
If Slimani does end his stint at Newcastle in the sin bin, money can be saved and ploughed into another bid for a striker.
This game - thankfully - will quickly be forgotten, however, and the last three outings will offer Benitez the chance to give some players with points to prove their long-awaited chance.
Indeed, the likes of Ciaran Clark, Karl Darlow, Chancel Mbemba, Javier Manquillo, Isaac Hayden, Jacob Murphy, and Mikel Merino are waiting in the wings.
Where the Magpies finish now could depend on how fired up those fringe players are to prove their manager wrong after such a long stint on the sidelines.