WEST HAM UNITED will target Rafael Benitez if they dismiss Slaven Bilic in the next few weeks – but Newcastle United officials are confident the Spaniard will not be leaving St James’ Park.

Bilic’s future at the renamed London Stadium is hanging by a thread after Saturday’s last-gasp defeat to Tottenham left the Hammers just one place above the relegation zone.

Sources in London expect Bilic to be sacked if he fails to win either of West Ham’s next two league matches, which are against Manchester United and Arsenal, and Benitez would be at the top of the Hammers’ wanted list if they were to dispense with the Croatian.

Benitez held detailed talks with West Ham co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan in the summer of 2015, and would almost certainly have taken over ahead of Bilic had Real Madrid not made an alternative approach that ended up with him being appointed at the Bernabeu.

The West Ham hierarchy’s admiration has not gone away though, and both Gold and Sullivan are understood to have been impressed with Benitez’s achievements during his eight months in charge of Newcastle.

The former Liverpool and Chelsea boss might have been unable to keep the Magpies in the top-flight last season, but he successfully stabilised the club in the summer and has guided Newcastle to a five-point lead at the top of the Championship following a club record-equalling run of nine successive victories in all competitions.

Losing Benitez at such a pivotal stage of the rebuilding process would be a nightmare scenario for Newcastle, but the club are unconcerned at the mounting speculation linking Benitez with a possible move to East London.

Having remained on Tyneside in the aftermath of last season’s relegation, Benitez is happily settled in his current role and is determined to complete the task of restoring Newcastle to the top-flight.

He enjoys a good working relationship with managing director Lee Charnley, has secured the final say when it comes to transfer dealings and remains one of the best-paid managers in the country despite last season’s relegation.

His working base in the North-East suits him given that his family continue to live in his former home on the Wirral, and he still regards Newcastle’s long-term prospects as extremely strong. Having signed a new three-year contract in the summer, he is determined to see out his deal.

That could potentially change if he was to be offered one of the top jobs in European football, but taking over a West Ham side in serious relegation trouble, and still coming to terms with the difficulty of this summer’s relocation to the former Olympic Stadium, is not a scenario that is likely to appeal.

Benitez’s immediate task is to prepare his side for Saturday’s home game with Blackburn, a match that would see Newcastle create history if they were to make it ten wins in a row.

Blackburn will kick off this weekend’s game in the bottom three, but enjoyed a rare good day last weekend when a brace from former Sunderland and Middlesbrough striker Danny Graham helped secure a 3-2 win over Brentford.

Newcastle will be strong favourites in three days’ time, but Rovers boss Owen Coyle is relishing the challenge of taking them on and is confident his players are capable of springing a surprise.

“When I was a player, that is the environment I wanted to play in, against the best teams in the best stadiums with an unbelievable atmosphere,” said Coyle, who is hoping former Newcastle midfielder Danny Guthrie will be fit to return from injury at the weekend. “We can go to Newcastle and be really positive, as we will be.

“Rafa will know we are a good side, and I am very respectful. I think they have got a lot of quality, and I think they will win the league. But there is no reason why we can’t go there and shock them.”