Rafael Benitez: Newcastle's fight is going to the wire

20 March 2016 09:23

Rafael Benitez has warned his Newcastle players they face a fight until the final minute of the season to preserve their Barclays Premier League status.

The Spaniard saw his side strike late at St James' Park to avoid a seventh successive derby defeat by arch-rivals Sunderland and snatch a 1-1 draw which ultimately did little to improve their situation at the wrong end of the table.

However, he remains confident that if the improvement he has seen in his first two games at the helm continues, they can still drag themselves out of trouble.

When it was suggested to him that the table - which shows the Magpies are three points adrift of safety with eight games remaining - looked scary, Benitez said: "It was scary before.

"I am here because I have to give the team confidence and we have to improve things. Again I will say at Leicester, you could see a lot of good things; still not enough. Today in the second half, a lot of good things; not enough.

"We have eight games to play and we know they will be incredibly difficult. We know it will be difficult, for sure. I knew before.

"We are creating chances, we are attacking and we can be there, so we have to improve this part of the game and create more chances and [Aleksandar] Mitrovic or Papiss Cisse or the other strikers will score more goals and we will be fine.

"But I can maybe say that we will have to fight until the last game and the last minute, so we have to do it."

Mitrovic, who later appeared to be knocked unconscious in an aerial challenge, got Newcastle out of jail with an 83rd-minute equaliser after the Black Cats had threatened to extend their winning derby run to seven games when Jermain Defoe capitalised on a good first-half display with a 44th-minute opener.

It was just the Serbia international's sixth goal of the season, and Benitez is hoping there are more to come.

"I said before that he has the potential. We have to help him a little bit with better crosses, better deliveries and support and get closer to him, but he will score goals if we can do that," h e said.

If there were relieved smiles on the faces of the home players and supporters on the final whistle - although the plight of both clubs remains parlous - Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce left Tyneside once again wearing a frown.

He said: "We end up hugely frustrated with a point instead of three and that makes life again so difficult for us. It happened at Southampton and now it's happened here today - that's four points thrown away.

"But those four points on the board now and we are feeling like we are going to be surviving and we are going to stay safe. Now we are going to go right to the wire to try to stay safe, and that's the bottom line.

"While I can be content with the players' performance and taking control of the game today, I'm a little frustrated about the fact we have not won enough games and again should have won this one and didn't."

The international break means Allardyce now has two weeks during which to stew on another missed opportunity before West Brom head for the Stadium of Light.

He added: "We have got another goddamn two weeks to wait before we play again. We had a long wait to play this one when I wanted a game next week. Now we have got another goddamn two weeks for football associations to make money with stupid b****y friendlies."

Source: PA