RAFAEL BENITEZ has praised the character of his Newcastle United players for digging deep to preserve a point in the battle to stay in the Premier League at Selhurst Park.

The Magpies boss was a little disappointed to have seen his team let slip a 22nd minute lead secured by Mo Diame’s poacher’s finish at the back post.

But he knows Crystal Palace, who sit two points clear of Newcastle, could easily have gone on to win after Luka Milivojevic had struck a penalty nine minutes after half-time.

Newcastle’s players showed plenty of desire and determination to avoid the defeat and that has ensured they stay a point clear of the bottom three.

Benitez said: "We got an extra point, so we cannot say it is negative. We have to stay calm and be sure that we do what we have to do in order to fight and have more chances to win games.

"We are learning, it is a learning process, but still we are playing against good players. Wilfried Zaha can dribble, you know he can, but still he can do it even if you know.

"Then we are trying to manage and do things. But the togetherness of the team is important.

“In the first half we were in control, doing well, we had another chance to score the second goal.

"In the second half the counter attack made a big difference. If you don't score the second goal then you are under pressure and you have to defend.

"I was happy with how we were defending against very good strikers. It could be better, but it could be worse. It is one point in the end and, more or less, that is fair.”

Newcastle defender Ciaran Clark was penalised for pulling the shirt of Christian Benteke and that gifted Palace the chance from the spot to equalise.

Clark later did similar to James McArthur while at the same time Jonjo Shelvey appeared to pull on Mamadou Sakho’s shirt too. Neither was given a penalty.

Benitez said: "You see it a lot. It is difficult to say it wasn't a penalty, I cannot say it wasn't, but also he was pushing my player. The other side will say clear penalty, I will say not.”

But Benitez added: "The fans are fantastic. When you go away, always you can feel them. We would like to win every game and send them home happy. We have more people at home, and if we stick together we will be stronger.

"It was very clear from the beginning that we were working really hard, particularly towards the end when we were blocking and running. That is the only way for us and the others towards the bottom of the table.”

While Kenedy made his second appearance since moving from Chelsea, Islam Slimani stayed on Tyneside nursing a thigh problem. Goalkeeper Martin Dubravka was named on the bench and Benitez hopes he can consider all three against Manchester United next Sunday.

The Newcastle boss, who will assess a knee problem picked up by Clark, said: "He was not ready. He was training on Saturday, he will train tomorrow, and he will have a chance for next Sunday. He must compete, like Dubravka and Kenedy."

While Benitez is focusing on the players he has at his disposal, he is keen to forget about Jack Colback after his departure to Nottingham Forest on deadline day. Fulham, who signed Aleksandar Mitrovic, won 2-0 at Craven Cottage.

Colback, who has not figured for Newcastle all season, said: "It's been difficult. To be honest with you, there's been no respect shown my way whatsoever (at Newcastle). It's my first game in four or five months, and I'm just pleased to get through it."

On his debut for Forest, Colback added: "Disappointed overall with the result. I think we had plenty of clear enough chances to get something from the game.

“We looked solid and comfortable. We matched them and were very organised. I felt alright and a lot better than I thought. It's nice to be in the first team environment here."

Colback moved to Newcastle as a free agent in 2014 after his Sunderland contract expired. He has another 18 months on his deal.