RAFA BENITEZ will be in no rush to let players leave Newcastle United next month unless he is confident of bringing in replacements.

The Magpies boss is aware of interest in a few of his first team players, with Ciaran Clark and Karl Darlow the latest to be attracting attention.

But Benitez will be doing what he can to keep his squad together until he knows new arrivals have been lined up.

West Brom, who already have Dwight Gayle on loan from St James’ Park, are keen to sign defender Ciaran Clark next month to boost the push for promotion back to the Premier League.

The Irishman has been in and out of the Newcastle team but has been back in again of late, including a positive display during last Sunday’s defeat to Wolves.

Clark, who used to live in the Midlands during his time at Aston Villa, is viewed as a decent option by Benitez, so he will not be ready to accept a deal unless there were alternatives lined up.

Newcastle’s squad is not strong enough to lose players next month unless Mike Ashley, who is in talks to sell the club to Peter Kenyon and a couple of other interested parties, gives the go-ahead to spend while takeover negotiations continue.

Benitez is known to be pushing to sign Atlanta United playmaker Miguel Almiron on an initial loan deal, but he does not have too many options in that area either.

The situation with Darlow is different. The former Nottingham Forest goalkeeper, who remained on Tyneside 18 months ago after a £5m offer from Middlesbrough for him, has been playing back-up to Martin Dubravka.

Newcastle also have Rob Elliott and Freddie Woodman, two other goalkeepers whose futures are uncertain after a lack of first team opportunities.

Benitez is likely to let at least one of those depart and it has emerged Leeds United are keen to sign Darlow after Jamal Blackman broke his leg. He would provide competition for No 1 Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

Newcastle are looking to hit the opening of the transfer window sitting prettier in the Premier League. Two home defeats in a row has left them with a three point cushion over the relegation zone ahead of Saturday’s significant trip to Huddersfield.

In recent weeks there have been notable improvements in results and Mo Diame thinks the influence of Ki Sung-Yeung in the middle has played a pivotal role. Ki has kept Jonjo Shelvey out of the team.

Diame said: “Ki has quality on the ball. He has been playing his part with this team since he started playing, after having to wait for a big chance. We have got points in this way playing together and we have to keep going together, as a team, work hard to get the results.”

While the impact of Diame and Ki in the middle has helped, the former also thinks Benitez’s decision to switch to three centre-backs has brought results too.

Diame said: “It doesn’t matter what system, but it does look like we are playing better football when we have three at the back. We will see if we continue to play that way, that is what the manager is here to do, to decide things like that. If he wants us to play in a three or a four we will be ready, we have the players to do that.”

Sunderland owner Stewart Donald, meanwhile, has defended increasing ticket prices for the Checkatrade Trophy tie with Newcastle’s under-21s.

Tickets for Sunderland’s last round tie against Notts County were just £3, but have gone up to £15 for the Wear-Tyne date.

Donald Tweeted: “I appreciate it has gone up but Newcastle have asked for a lot of tickets and the police bill, stewarding and general cost of the game etc is so much more due to that than the other games.”