RAFA BENITEZ thinks skipper Jamaal Lascelles is winning his fitness race to face Bournemouth on Saturday as Newcastle United look to build on a long-awaited first win of the season.

The Magpies went on to beat Watford last weekend even though Lascelles had to miss the second half with the shoulder problem that had caused him an issue during the build-up to the game.

The Newcastle captain had to be replaced by Fabian Schar and had taken things easy in training at the start of the week, but has stepped things up in recent days.

Given the strong performance of Schar against the Hornets, Benitez does not have to rush Lascelles back if he is not completely right, but he will be monitoring him closely on Friday before determining whether he can face Bournemouth.

It is not all good news, though, as Jonjo Shelvey and Yoshinori Muto’s muscular problems have put them on course to miss out.

“Jamaal is back in training. He was only doing a light training session (on Tuesday), but it is a positive that he could train,” said Benitez. “The other two injuries (Shelvey and Muto) were still having treatment, so we will have to see how they are.

“It could be difficult for them to make it for this weekend, but we will see. We will have to see a little bit later how they progress.”

Benitez will be reluctant to make too many changes to his team after finally seeing his players end the wait for a first victory of the season. That was a run of 11 games, including the Carabao Cup defeat at Nottingham Forest, until Ayoze Perez’s 65th minute winner secured the points last Saturday.

He said: “It was very important. I was talking with some fans before, and I think everyone knows that in so many games, we were really close to getting that win.

“But we just couldn’t do it. So to get three points, even though the game was maybe not the best, was a relief. It means we are feeling much better and are ready for the next challenge.”

Newcastle’s mood will be even stronger when French defender Florian Lejeune makes his comeback. The 27-year-old has not played since suffering a serious knee injury in pre-season, forcing him to miss the start and good chunk of the campaign.

Lejeune’s progress has been impressive and he is on track, even if he is unlikely to play for the rest of the year after taking part in a few sessions with his team-mates at the club’s Benton training HQ.

Benitez said: “The Italian people who did the operation (Professor Pier Paolo Mariani from the Villa Stuart Clinic in Rome) are around, checking, and he's fine. I don't want to be too optimistic, but he's had a couple of training sessions doing the warm-up with the team.

"On the ball, he can do almost everything, but he has to improve. He has to be stronger, quicker, and after he has to train with the team. After training with the team for a while, we can take the risk of playing him in games.

"It's going really well. We'll see how long it takes, but I think it will be sooner than everybody was expecting at the beginning."