News. Rafa focussed on Derby test

03 Feb 17

Rafa Benitez has reiterated the confidence he has in his Newcastle United squad as they bid to get back to winning ways against Derby County this weekend.

The Magpies – who came within a couple of minutes of beating QPR under the lights on Wednesday – welcome Steve McClaren’s side to St. James’ Park on Saturday (3pm kick-off), looking for the three points which would see them return to the Sky Bet Championship summit.

And Benitez moved to assure supporters that his focus was squarely on the visit of the Rams, who currently occupy the final play-off place.

“We have finished the transfer window, we have a good squad and I have confidence in them. My priority is to be sure that we’re ready for the next game against Derby,” he said.

“I am ready to fight and try to get three points in the net game and to get promoted at the end of the season.

“The fans, from the beginning, have been pushing and helping me to enjoy my job so I’m just trying to make sure that the players, the staff, everyone is pushing in the same direction.

“We have to be sure that we concentrate on getting three points every game, and keep pushing. We saw yesterday that Brighton lost a game, and it’s so difficult in this division.

“We have to be sure that we train well and work hard. With the players that we have at the moment we were doing really well in the first part of the season, and we have to do the same in the second part of the season.”

Fellow Championship pace-setters Brighton & Hove Albion slipped to defeat at Huddersfield Town on Thursday night, allowing United the chance to top the table with victory this weekend.

And Benitez called for unity ahead of his team’s clash with Derby, who were beaten 2-0 in the reverse fixture back in September thanks to goals from Yoan Gouffran and DeAndre Yedlin.

“We have to do it together. If we have problems on the pitch, the fans have to help and they have been fantastic during the whole season,” he said.

“Especially when you go away, you can see the fans, and even after the defeat in the FA Cup they were there, and the game after they were supporting the team. That is the way.

“We have to stick together – fans, players, staff, everyone – and be sure that we are stronger every game.

“The teams that are behind are doing well and they are quite dangerous, but you see Brighton, who are very strong, had massive problems yesterday.

“It’s so difficult this division, but I have confidence that we are doing well and we will do well. We’ve had some bad games, but we are strong enough to compete, to win and to go up.”

Benitez also provided an injury update, indicating that leading goalscorer Dwight Gayle – while not available for Saturday’s game – is nearing a return to fitness.

“We have Mbemba coming back from the African Cup of Nations, but he is a little bit stiff so he will not be available,” he revealed. “Colback is improving, and Dwight Gayle is improving but he is still not ready. Anita is in the same situation, and obviously Aarons.

“The other players are fine, training well and hopefully all of them can play tomorrow, if necessary.”

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