Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez keen to manage expectations ahead of Norwich clash
Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez has warned his players that the biggest obstacle in their path as they attempt to secure an immediate return to the Premier League could be themselves.
The Magpies entertain high-flying Norwich at St James' Park on Wednesday night still smarting from conceding a late equaliser at Aston Villa on Saturday on the back of a second home defeat of the season by Wolves seven days earlier.
But asked if the Canaries represented the most significant threat to the club's promotion hopes, Benitez said: "Maybe the biggest rivals are ourselves, so we have to be sure that we do what we can do.
"We have to perform at the level we know we can perform. We can beat anyone or we can lose to anyone because it is a difficult league. But if we do what we have to do, we will get stronger and stronger and at the end of the season, we will be at the top.
"Obviously you respect your rivals, but the main thing is we have the potential. Play to your maximum, sometimes you draw or lose, but at the end, you'll be at the top of the table."
It has been a boom and bust start to the season for Newcastle, who were tipped to run away with the league after putting together a run of five successive wins, but slipped to fifth place after the draw at Villa.
Benitez said with a smile: "I have had this at a lot of clubs. The fans celebrate if they win three games, and then you lose one and it is a disaster. Managing expectations is something we have to do."
That is something of which Canaries boss Alex Neil is also aware, but he does not want it to limit his team's ambition.
He told Norwich City TV: "People read into it because we're at the top of the league and everybody expects Newcastle to be top of the league.
"It's one of those games where if you win it, everybody will hype you up, and if you lose it, people will start writing you off.
"I don't think it's either of those two things really, but if we win the match it sends a statement out that we're a real contender in the league. We're going there, we want to win the game and we're confident that we've got enough to do that."