NEWCASTLE UNITED manager Rafa Benitez was left annoyed by the way his team left themselves with a mountain to climb in a game that ended in a 2-1 defeat at Watford.

The Magpies, who have been effectively safe from relegation for a few games, lost for the third match in a row after a slow start at Vicarage Road.

Watford followed up a second minute opener from Roberto Pereyra with a second in the 28th minute through Andre Gray.

It could have been more too, but goalkeeper Martin Dubravka made a number of first half stops including from a Troy Deeney penalty that shouldn’t have been given when Paul Dummett went down near Gray.

Benitez said: "I am very disappointed. We didn't start the game with the concentration we expected. We made too many mistakes and that's why we lost the game. The reaction in the second half was good.

“So, if we had done what we were expecting to do from the first minute, we would have had control. We had control during the second half, but we made too many mistakes in the first half.

"There was a lack of focus at the beginning. The first mistake, and after maybe we were a little bit worried about their strikers and we were not defending as a team. Then we conceded a penalty that it wasn't, so it could have been even worse.

"But in the end we lost a game that maybe we could have got a point from the second half, when the reaction was quite positive."

Ayoze Perez’s sliding finish from Javier Manquillo's cross in the 55th minute set up a decent finish when Newcastle showed spirit to try to claim a point.

In the end they could not find a way through but Newcastle have still done enough to stay up, on a day when it was confirmed Stoke City are relegated to the Championship.

Benitez said: "It's not a question of motivation. We achieved something that was really important and difficult: to stay up with five games to go was a great achievement.

“With this in mind, the team is working hard, running, but we are going late into some situations, and we are making mistakes because maybe we do not have this concentration, this responsibility and the necessity to get points.

“So we can just think: 'If we go now, we can see what happens.' It doesn't matter too much if we lose a game. But now we must realise we have lost three in a row and we have to react. The teams in the Premier League are quite good, and if you make mistakes, you will pay for that.

"I was really proud of this group of players because they were doing really well. Now, still I am proud of them, but I would like to see the team winning and finish the season on a high.

“It will be a pity that all the hard work, all the good things that we have done. You can see other teams are still fighting against relegation.”

Benitez, meanwhile, has been shortlisted for the Premier League manager of the year award along with Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Sean Dyche, Roy Hodgson and Chris Hughton.