Benitez calls on Newcastle fans not to target Lascelles
The defender signed a new contract extension on Thursday.
Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez has urged fans not to target skipper Jamaal Lascelles after he described owner Mike Ashley as “a nice guy”.
The 24-year-old defender’s comment as he called for a united front after signing a contract extension on Thursday attracted criticism on social media with supporters planning a series of fresh protests against the controversial sportswear magnate’s 11-year tenure in the coming weeks.
Benitez will send his side into Premier League battle with Watford at St James’ Park on Saturday still looking for a first win of the season and hoping there will be no backlash against such an influential member of his dressing room.
The Spaniard said: “We met Mike Ashley – and they didn’t know him – for a dinner that was supposed to create a good atmosphere, so his first impression is something that you cannot control.
“But I think his message, apart from that that you can have an opinion on, is just try to keep everybody together, try to work hard.
“The fact that he signed an extension means that he cares. I think he was trying to be positive, trying to send the right message to everyone.
“Okay, there are things off the pitch you cannot control when you meet one person at a dinner for a couple of hours. It’s not that you are having an opinion about what has happened in the last 11 years.
“He’s not trying to do that. It’s just a moment and that’s it.
“You have to understand that he’s a young player and he had this first impression. It doesn’t mean that he will not give everything on the pitch. That is the main thing that we are expecting from him.”
Benitez revealed he had had a brief conversation with Lascelles on the matter on Friday morning and is hoping it will not prove a distraction ahead of a key game.
He said: “It’s about us doing what we have to do to win a game against Watford and if Jamaal mentally is ready to do that.
“That is what I’m expecting from him, just give everything and make sure the rest of his team-mates work as hard as he is working already.
“The main thing for us is to get three points tomorrow and then if he said this or that, it doesn’t matter. I said to him, ‘If you score the winning goal tomorrow, everybody will be happy’.”