Rafa up for a scrap: Benitez ready for Newcastle’s relegation ‘cup finals’ after Palace win boosts hopes
Spaniard says Newcastle face two ‘cup finals’ as their bid to avoid relegation from the Premier League looks set to go down to the wire
Rafael Benitez says Newcastle face two ‘cup finals’ as their bid to avoid relegation from the Premier League looks set to go down to the wire.
Benitez’s side climbed out of the bottom three for the first time in almost two months thanks to Saturday’s dramatic 1-0 victory over FA Cup finalists Crystal Palace, who themselves are not quite safe from danger.
Despite Palace’s slump, realistically Newcastle are in a three-way battle with local rivals Sunderland and Norwich to avoid the two remaining places to join Aston Villa in the Championship next season.
After giving their survival hopes renewed hope with a fourth game unbeaten thanks to Andros Townsend’s free-kick and Karl Darlow’s late penalty save from former Newcastle midfielder Yohan Cabaye, Benitez’s side travel to Villa before hosting Tottenham on the final day of the season.
Victory in their final two games might be enough to avoid a second relegation in seven years.
But with Sunderland and Norwich enjoying a game in hand over them, Benitez knows Newcastle, now one point above the bottom three, will have to maintain the impressive performance levels to beat the drop.
“It’s important for us and for the fans to see the table and that we’re out of the bottom three,” said Benitez, who is eight games into a 10-match rescue mission he inherited when replacing former England boss Steve McClaren in March.
“We still have to keep going and we have to approach the game against Villa as another final. We have to be ready for the next game.
“People have asked me if we have to win our last two games to stay up but I say it’s just about winning the next one, and then after that we think about the final game.
“That’s the only way you can approach our situation.”
Palace have won just one of their last 19 Premier League games, and although it would take a freak set of results to see them dragged into the scrap, their top-flight future is still in the balance.
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce claimed this week that he would put money on a Newcastle win as Alan Pardew’s squad would be saving themselves for the final after being out ‘on the pop’ celebrating the prospect of a first FA Cup showpiece in 26 years against Manchester United after their 2-1 semi-final victory over Watford.
But after tasting defeat on his first return to the club he managed for four years from 2010, Pardew hit back at Allardyce, claiming his players gave their all before falling to the set-piece brilliance of England midfielder Townsend and third-choice keeper Darlow.
“He hasn’t got a case,” an angry Pardew insisted. “Just send him the video. They’re pre-historic comments and I don’t know what era he’s in.
“Three or four of my players don’t drink. Perhaps he meant Coca-Cola, It’s nonsense.”
Pardew missed the main post-match press conference, instead sending his assistant Keith Millen, who added: “What Sam said didn’t affect us. We know what we do as a side, and we want to finish the season strongly.
“We’ve made it a tough game for Newcastle. Sam can say what he likes, but we know we’re professional and we want to win a couple of games before the cup final to get some momentum.
“It would be nice to be sat here saying we’re mathematically safe, but we have to wait until next week to be able to do that now.”