RAFAEL BENITEZ remains confident Newcastle United can avoid relegation – but the Magpies manager has revealed he has still not spoken to Mike Ashley about the club’s transfer situation.

Newcastle find themselves in the bottom three after slipping to a 2-1 defeat at Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Benitez’s side played well for long periods, but goals from Pedro and Willian meant Ciaran Clark’s first-half header did not result in any points.

The Magpies host Cardiff City in a relegation six-pointer next weekend, and while Newcastle are still searching for their first win of 2019, Benitez remains confident his side can clamber out of trouble at the foot of the table.

The Newcastle boss said: “What I can see is that we have to stay calm. It is a long-distance race, and still we have to win more games.

“I have confidence that if we continue working like today, we will have chances to get points against teams that will be closer to us. That is it. We have to be better than three teams. If we play like today, we will do it.”

However, Benitez still has no idea whether new players will be arriving before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.

Ashley watched this afternoon’s game from the directors’ box at Stamford Bridge – it was the first time he had seen Newcastle in person since mid-November – but Benitez did not have a face-to-face discussion with the sportswear magnate.

He said: “Optimistic about the team? Yes. Optimistic about the other things (transfers)? I don’t talk about the other things.

“I was talking with Lee Charnley before the game. I haven’t seen Mike afterwards, but I knew he was here.”

Benitez felt Newcastle did reasonably well as they battled back from the concession of Pedro’s ninth-minute opener, but admitted Chelsea’s superior quality told in the end.

He said: “I think we did quite well for a while. In the first half, after conceding the goal, the reaction of the team was quite positive. For me, that means the players care and the effort is there.

“The work rate was there, and the understanding of the game plan and what we wanted to do was also there. We had chances at corners and scored, but they started the second half pushing.

“We were defending, but Willian made the difference. After that, we had to keep pushing, but normally you are getting tired. We were still in the game, but we had to be more open some times and go higher.

“When we gave the ball away, they had the chance to play on the counter-attack. When you talk about the names they have, and the quality and the pace, that is normal. In the end, it was quite positive in terms of the things we did and the way that we did it.”