IT has come to be footballing shorthand for a side’s stomach for a fight. Can they do it on a wet and windy afternoon in Stoke? In the case of Newcastle United, the answer was a resounding and morale-boosting yes.

Monday’s trip to the Potteries contained all the ingredients for a testing occasion. The weather was filthy, with the early-afternoon sunshine quickly making way for a series of squally showers. Newcastle went into the game just two places above the relegation zone having failed to beat Brighton two days earlier, while Stoke boss Mark Hughes had rested six of his senior players for his side’s weekend game at Chelsea to ensure they were at peak fitness for the visit of the Magpies.

It was the type of game that a succession of previous Newcastle sides have lost in the past, but thanks to an excellent display brimming with commitment and heart, it resulted in a 1-0 win that lifted Rafael Benitez’s side into 13th position in the table.

There will be plenty of similar tests in the final four-and-a-half months of the season, not least when Newcastle entertain relegation rivals Swansea City in their next league outing a week on Saturday. But the Magpies will head into those games buoyed by the knowledge that their battling qualities remain intact.

“It was definitely the perfect way to start the year,” said Karl Darlow, whose three second-half saves played a crucial role in Newcastle’s win at the Bet365 Stadium. “It was a massive game given the positions of both teams in the table.

“The fight we showed during the game, as well as the passion and desire throughout, really sums up what this group is about. As long as we’re in the game, we’ll keep going, and we didn’t allow our focus to drop even though we missed chances.

“We always want to make sure we’re in a position to win the game, and we fought until the end, dealing with all the high balls and crosses on what was a horrible day in Stoke. It goes to show we’re ready for the fight, and we’re happy for the three points.”

Newcastle’s victory was especially notable given that Benitez felt compelled to make tactical and personnel changes as his side tackled their second game in the space of three days.

Ayoze Perez and Christian Atsu returned to the starting line-up to produce effective displays in attack, while Jonjo Shelvey and Mo Diame stepped up from the bench to control things at the heart of midfield.

Darlow was only making his second start since returning to the side in place of the injured Rob Elliot, and while he was understandably dismayed to have been dropped for his Irish rival in the middle of December, he was never going to allow any personal disappointment to get in the way of his duties in helping the rest of the team.

“It’s been pleasing (to get back in the team),” said Darlow. “I just want to help the team do well, and help us climb this league.

“Time and time again, the manager has said that it’s a squad game, and we know as players that we need to all be ready to come in and help out when we can. We’ve got to continue fighting for one another, which we keep doing.

“I was pleased to get some reaction saves (at Stoke), some instinctive ones - the ones we work on in training. They were good saves, and I was pleased to help the team get three points.”

Having returned to the starting line-up for the Brighton game, Darlow is set to step back out of the limelight this weekend, with Benitez poised to hand Freddie Woodman a rare first-team start when Newcastle host League Two leaders Luton Town in the FA Cup third round.

For the second season in a row, Benitez is set to make wholesale changes for the FA Cup, but while avoiding relegation in the Premier League has to be the priority, Darlow feels a successful cup run could have a galvanising effect.

“We want to do our best in every single match,” he said. “The Premier League may be our priority because we desperately want to stay in this division, but a good run in the FA Cup is good for confidence and good for the squad. Hopefully, we can do well in that, get through the rounds and get as far as possible.

“It would be nice to win at St James’ Park again - we need to win there and give the fans something to cheer about at home.”