RAFAEL BENITEZ will stay focused on preparing for Monday’s visit of Preston North End rather than keep an eye on Newcastle United’s rivals for a promotion place tomorrow.
Promotion back to the Premier League will effectively be confirmed if the Magpies can beat Preston and Huddersfield (v Fulham) and Reading (at Nottingham Forest) fail to win on Saturday.
Newcastle, who are seven points clear of Huddersfield who have a game in hand and six ahead of Reading, are still firm favourites to secure an automatic return to the Premier League with just three matches remaining.
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That is why Benitez is keen to have his mind fixed on Newcastle’s own preparations for the run-in rather the consider others, knowing how close promotion is.
“We have to play three games in this mini league, so we will see what happens,” said Benitez, whose side have not won any of their last three games.
“We had games in our hands, we were there after 75 minutes against Leeds. Things you can’t control and that is why football is so special. It’s a great sport.
“Sometimes you have to give credit to other teams. Sometimes it’s mistakes and the other day we didn’t play the level we normally play at Ipswich. We have to give credit to the team then push and push.
“I don’t think there’s a complacency. I will say again, the mistakes we have made in the crucial moment when you think you are doing well, winning the game, then mentally it is not easy to recover when you don’t win. It takes time to recover.
“Ipswich was a bad game and we gave them a chance and they scored. We gave them another chance. These things are what we have to analyse and that is what we have done, we have to do that every week.”
Benitez would love to know that top-flight football will be back at St James’ Park after Monday’s visit of Preston. He is, though, not banking on that being the case.
He said: “It will be nice for sure, but still the other teams have to do something, we have to do our job. We have to make sure we concentrate and win our games, if things go in our favour then much better.
“The first thing I said was congratulations to Chris Hughton, to the Brighton team because they did really well. My target has always been to try to go up. It doesn’t matter the position. We just have to finish our job.
“I am sure that everything is fine if we go up, nobody will remember in six months’ time how we won or didn’t win the last few games. It will just be that we were promoted.
“You look at history, in the last five years only one team went up who got relegated, so that shows how difficult is it. We are still in the driving seat.”
The Football League have risked controversy by appointing Huddersfield-born Andrew Madley as the man in the middle for Newcastle’s game with Preston – a game with a huge bearing on the promotion picture.
Benitez, who confirmed Dwight Gayle remains sidelined through injury but Ciaran Clark returns to the fold, said: “I was really surprised with that (referee) situation. We have to trust the referees.
“We have not had a lot of luck with them. I always trust the referees and hopefully everything will be fine and we are not talking about the referees at the end of the game.”