THE sooner Newcastle United are safe, the sooner Rafael Benitez will enter into a final round of discussions about his future. Hence the desire to ensure the Magpies take a major step towards safety when they entertain Crystal Palace tomorrow afternoon.

“We’ll try to do anything we can to seal this manager down to a contract,” said skipper Jamaal Lascelles. “If that means us getting the job done and getting as safe as possible, then excellent. We’ll just concentrate on our football and let the rest take care of itself.”

As the season hurtles towards its conclusion, Benitez’s future continues to dominate discussions on Tyneside. Last weekend, stories emerged suggesting the Spaniard had all-but-agreed to sign a new long-term contract. Twenty-four hours later, in the press room at the Emirates, he was insisting nothing had changed.

The truth probably lies somewhere in between. It is true that nothing has changed in terms of the practicalities of signing a deal, but the mood music has shifted significantly in the last few weeks, with Benitez’s representatives having held a series of constructive discussions with the Newcastle hierarchy.

Through his intermediaries, Mike Ashley has spelled out his desire to retain Benitez, who commands the unwavering support of the Newcastle fans. Benitez continues to harbour concerns about the direction of travel under Ashley, and will seek cast-iron assurances about future transfer plans. Increasingly, though, it looks as though those assurances will be forthcoming.

There is still a chance talks could collapse when they reach a critical stage, but Benitez has always been receptive to the idea of remaining on Tyneside and looks ready to broker an agreement. That will be a huge relief, not only to Newcastle’s supporters, but also to the players who have been steadfast in their backing for their manager.

“He has helped so much,” said Lascelles, who has been one of Newcastle’s key players throughout Benitez’s reign. “As a footballer, as a captain and as a man, I’ve really matured. He must have seen something in me that he liked.

“Since I’ve had the armband, he’s looked after me and helped me. He’s guided me in the right direction. I just follow instructions, and my personality and my characteristics do the rest. I thank him for everything I’ve learnt from him.”

Under Benitez, Lascelles has developed into a hugely impressive leader, and having watched his Newcastle team-mates ease up in the closing stages of last season, the defender is determined to avoid a repeat this term.

This time last year, the Magpies’ form dropped off a cliff once their safety was assured. Given the lacklustre nature of their display at Arsenal on Monday night, it has been suggested that Newcastle’s players are once again taking their foot off the gas with the finishing line in sight.

Cardiff’s midweek defeat at Manchester City eased the pressure at the foot of the table – Newcastle are seven points clear of the drop zone with six games to play – but Lascelles is adamant he and his team-mates will not be taking things easy in the final month of the campaign.

“I think last year we made a bit of a mistake when we were safe and took our feet off the gas a little bit,” he said. “We lost four out of our five last games.

“We need to make sure we’re safe. There’s still a lot to play for, and we’ll try and finish as high as we can. (Arsenal) and Liverpool are probably two of the biggest teams we’ve got left to play, and we’ve crossed one of those off. But look at the other games – all our home games are important.

“It’s a big game this weekend against Palace. We’d like to finish ahead of them, and to do that we need to beat them on Saturday.”