AYOZE PEREZ was delighted to play a central role in Newcastle United’s spirited New Year’s Day win at Stoke City – now the Spaniard is hoping to get more opportunities to play as an out-and-out striker in the second half of the season.

Having spent the vast majority of the campaign playing in the ‘number ten’ position, Perez found himself leading the line alongside Christian Atsu as the Magpies travelled to the Bet365 Stadium for their opening game of 2018. The switch was unexpected, but proved a tactical masterstroke as Perez converted Jacob Murphy’s second-half cross to secure a priceless 1-0 win.

Rafael Benitez remains determined to land a new striker before the transfer window closes at the end of the month, and has lodged loan offers for Leicester’s Islam Slimani and Liverpool’s Danny Ings.

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However, with both players having featured in their respective teams’ squads on New Year’s Day, a transfer breakthrough remains some way off, and having made a goalscoring contribution two days’ ago, Perez is ready to lead the line again.

“I found out where I’d be playing two hours before the game, once we got to the stadium,” said Perez, who regularly played as an orthodox centre-forward in his first few months as a Newcastle player. “The gaffer gave us the instructions, the line-up, and that’s when you find out.

“You start talking with your team-mates about what we were going to do, and we did really well and played good football. I'm happy for the win.

“To be honest, it was really good to be back in the starting XI. It’s always important, and I was also comfortable in that role. We did well. We played good football. We've got quality in the team to play good football. We did it and we won.”

With Dwight Gayle and Joselu dropped to the bench, Perez and Atsu combined to repeatedly stretch the Stoke defence. Their energy and movement enabled Newcastle to ask a different set of questions than their opponents would have been expecting, and both Kurt Zouma and Kevin Wimmer struggled to prevent the Magpies carving out goalscoring opportunities.

Atsu was unable to convert three decent chances inside the opening quarter-of-an-hour, but Perez was much more clinical when Murphy crossed in the closing stages, and as a result, Newcastle were able to claim back-to-back away wins in the top-flight for the first time since November 2014.

When they travelled to West Ham two days before Christmas, the Magpies looked in serious trouble on the edge of the Premier League relegation zone.

They still have plenty of work to do if they are to retain their top-flight status, but having made it to the 22-point mark ahead of this weekend’s hiatus for the third round of the FA Cup, they find themselves in a position where five more league wins will give them an excellent chance of securing survival.

“It's massive to get those victories,” said Perez. “Every team tries to protect themselves and get points and be strong in their own stadium. Against two important teams, we have done it. It's really important. We focus on our form at home - that can be much better - but we have to keep pushing.”

Attention now switches to the FA Cup, and for the second season running, Benitez is set to make wholesale changes despite Mike Ashley’s self-proclaimed renewed interest in the cup competitions.

The likes of Freddie Woodman, Massadio Haidara, Chancel Mbemba and Rolando Aarons are set to be involved as Newcastle host League Two leaders Luton Town, with Benitez expected to rotate his squad in an attempt to ensure his key performers are as fresh as possible for the Premier League home game with struggling Swansea City on January 13.

“The FA Cup game could be good for whoever is playing,” said Perez. “We’re at home. We’ll be trying to improve our form at home and get a good result and be competitive.

“The next league game is also at home against Swansea, so it's going to be two important weeks. We have to be ready for it. We need to get more points. It's going to be important.”