Wednesday 28 September 2016

Rafael Benitez: Players believe they can save Newcastle from relegation

Published 16/04/2016 | 20:31

Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez celebrated his 56th birthday with a 3-0 victory over Swansea
Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez celebrated his 56th birthday with a 3-0 victory over Swansea

Rafael Benitez thinks his Newcastle players now believe in themselves after they got back into the fight for Barclays Premier League survival with a helping hand from arch-rivals Sunderland.

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The Magpies' 3-0 home victory over Swansea on Saturday, coupled with the Black Cats' success at Norwich by the same score earlier in the day, means they are within three points of the 17th-placed Canaries with a game in hand ahead of Manchester City's visit to St James' Park on Tuesday evening.

Only one of the two north-east clubs is likely to get themselves out of trouble during the remaining weeks of the season, but Newcastle have at least given themselves a chance with what was birthday boy Benitez's first win of his five-game reign to date.

Asked about the atmosphere in the dressing room after the final whistle, the Spaniard said: "Obviously much better. Everybody was happy and I think they are now thinking that we can do it and they believe.

"They have this feeling, like all the fans watching the team working as hard as today, everybody thinks we can do it. That's the main thing. As I have said a lot of times, we will fight until the end, but now we are closer and it will be easier for me to give this speech."

The fact that the scoreline flattered Newcastle will have been of little concern to Benitez, his players or the fans, who watched the game with Swansea squandering a series of second-half chances with the score at 1-0.

Defender Jamaal Lascelles headed the home side in front four minutes before the break and skipper-for-the-day Moussa Sissoko gave them breathing space with eight minutes remaining before Andros Townsend, who had set up the first two goals, helped himself to a third at the death.

For Benitez, who was celebrating his 56th birthday, it was the perfect gift.

He said: "When you are expecting something from your players and they give you this, three goals and three points and the way that we won, you have to say congratulations to them and congratulations to our fans because they deserved this game.

"The players worked so hard and they showed the passion, the character, the commitment we were looking for and the fans appreciate that, so I am really pleased for all of them, and it's a good present for me.

"Now with some players, some friends, my staff, hopefully we can enjoy today - and then tomorrow, we have to start working because we have Manchester City."

Opposite number Francesco Guidolin, who saw the Swans reach 40 points with victory over Chelsea last weekend, was disappointed with the way the match slipped away from his team.

He said: "Newcastle deserved to win, but the result is heavy for us because yes, Newcastle played better than us with more intensity, with focus, but in the second half, we had some situations, some possibilities to score and draw level, and maybe the match could have changed.

"But this is our job, it's my job. I know football. Maybe after three months of hard work to achieve where we are in the table, it's possible to have a bad day, and today for us was not a good day."

Guidolin, however, insisted his players had not taken their foot off the pedal after reaching 40 points.

He said: "No, I think no. We need some points for mathematical security to stay in the Premier League. It's not done yet, so we need some points. I don't know how many - one, two three - but it's important not to relax.

"Football is particular and I have seen many surprises in my career, so it's important to be focussed and be aware."

Press Association

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