Rafael Benitez has told his Newcastle United players not to waste time looking at the Barclays Premier League table despite climbing out of the relegation zone.
Yesterday’s hard-fought 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace coupled with Sunderland’s 1-1 draw at Stoke and Norwich’s 1-0 defeat at Arsenal edged the Magpies into 17th place and gave them genuine hope of survival. However, Benitez, as he has done since his arrival on Tyneside, is concentrating only on the next game, and on this occasion it is next weekend’s trip to relegated Aston Villa.
Benitez said: “It could be important for us. I’m sure it’s important for the fans and everyone now when you see the table. But we still have to keep going.
“We know that we have to approach the game against Aston Villa like another final, and that’s it. We cannot look too much at the table, we just have to be sure that the next game, we will be ready.”
Asked if Newcastle will realistically have to beat both Villa then Tottenham in their final game, the 56-year-old Spaniard was equally focused. He said: “No, we have to win one – the next one – and after, we will think about the other one. That’s the only way.”
Victory over Palace, which extended Newcastle’s recent unbeaten run to four games, was secured by Andros Townsend’s fine 58th-minute free-kick, his third goal in five games, although they needed keeper Karl Darlow’s 70th-minute penalty save from former Magpie Yohan Cabaye to see them home.
Benitez said: “You can say always when a keeper saves a penalty that he is a hero, but then we can say the same with Andros.
“He did really well, I am really pleased for him – and hopefully he doesn’t need to save any more penalties. That would be fine.”
Benitez revealed Townsend had been practising different free-kicks, but succeeded with one which did not come from the play book, saying: “So he did well.”
Palace boss Alan Pardew was in combative move when asked about Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce’s suggestion that his players would have been “on the pop” all week after reaching the FA Cup final.
He said: “He hasn’t got a case – just send him the video. They’re prehistoric comments. I don’t know what era he’s in. Three or four of my players don’t drink. Perhaps he meant Coca-Cola. It’s nonsense.”