RAFA BENITEZ has praised the “application” of his players for battling away to earn a point at Everton despite takeover and transfer talk surrounding Newcastle United.

The Magpies boss, who had to deal with a similar situation 12 months ago when Mike Ashley admitted he was in discussions to sell up, was delighted with the manner of his side’s display to increase the gap to the relegation zone to four points.

Newcastle stopped sixth-place Everton in their tracks despite 24 hours of attention surrounding the club’s future, after Ashley admitted talks “are at a more progressed stage than they ever have been” for him to sell.

Peter Kenyon, the former Chelsea and Manchester United chief executive, is fronting a consortium in the United States looking to buy Newcastle, and he fancies taking on a similar role at St James’ Park.

The connections to the States don’t stop there, with Newcastle understood to be close to agreeing a deal for Atlanta United’s playmaker Miguel Almiron ahead of a January switch.

The Paraguayan international is set to play for Atlanta in the MLS Cup final against Portland Timbers this weekend and then looks set for a loan move to Tyneside with a view to a £15m permanent deal next summer.

Benitez wasn’t having any of it last night, though. He said: “We don’t talk about players. Now is the time to enjoy the performance of this group.”

Asked about the takeover talk, with Kenyon understood to have been granted access to the club’s accounts, he said: “It is business as usual. I don’t see any difference for us.”

Then it was on to the match, which Benitez was far happier to discuss.

Newcastle, who had lost 3-0 at home to West Ham on Saturday, had taken the lead in the 19th minute when Benitez’s tactics worked to a tee.

While Everton boss Marco Silva claimed Ademola Lookman was fouled by Mo Diame in the build up, Jacob Murphy went on to deliver the perfect centre for Salomon Rondon to score his fourth for Newcastle.

Everton did deservedly pull one back seven minutes before half-time through Richarlison but after that Newcastle defended excellently to earn a point.

Benitez said: “I have to give credit to my players because the application, the way they were doing everything, was fantastic. We played against a very good team.

“The first minute, the counter attacks, we had half chances and we scored a great goal. After that we were defending, we give them too many chances from corner and free kicks and they score.

“The second half, we had more control. They were trying different things. They were winning four games in a row at home so to get a point in this stadium in the way things are going for us was a credit to us.

“We needed to work hard in defence because we knew they would have the ball. They have top class players so to defend well for 95 minutes was not easy. A pity for us we have the chances and could win at the end.

“For us it is everything. People don’t realise, when you see the players coming from the bench with experience in World Cup, Euros, Champions League, so our players are doing a great job.”

Fabian Schar picked up his fifth caution of the season so will miss Sunday’s visit of Wolves, who beat Chelsea last night, and that means a change at the back is guaranteed.

But after making three changes against Everton to earn a point, Benitez will have no qualms about mixing things up again.

He said: “To be fair, Christian Atsu did a great job, the same with Jacob Murphy, they did really well.

“In terms of centre-backs, Jamaal Lascelles was coming back. We still have Ciaran Clark, maybe the worst for us is left-back, we don’t have another left-footed player to play there. The worst for us is when a player is doing really well and he cannot play.”

And he was delighted with the performance of goalkeeper Martin Dubravka after his stunning save denied Cenk Tosun in the first half from three yards out.

He added: “Always it is good to have a very good goalkeeper. He is doing a great job for us, is a very good professional. If he is busy, he can make some good saves like today.”