Rafa Benitez has told his Newcastle players not to waste time looking at the Premier League table despite climbing out of the relegation zone.
Saturday’s hard-fought 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace coupled with Sunderland’s 1-1 draw at Stoke edged the Magpies into 17th place ahead of Norwich’s evening trip to Arsenal and gave them genuine hope of survival.
However, Benitez, as he has done since his arrival on Tyneside, is concentrating only on the next game, and on this occasion it is next weekend’s trip to relegated Aston Villa.
Benitez said: “It could be important for us. I’m sure it’s important for the fans and everyone now when you see the table, but we still have to keep going.
“We know that we have to approach the game against Aston Villa like another final, and that’s it. We cannot look too much at the table, we just have to be sure that the next game, we will be ready.”
Asked if the Magpies will realistically have to beat both Villa and Tottenham in their final game, the 56-year-old Spaniard was equally focused.
He said: “No, we have to win one — the next one — and after, we will think about the other one. That’s the only way.”
Victory over Palace, which extended Newcastle’s recent unbeaten run to four games, was secured by Andros Townsend’s fine 58th-minute free kick, his third goal in five games, although they needed keeper Karl Darlow’s 70th-minute penalty save from former Magpie Yohan Cabaye to see them home.
Benitez said: “You can say always when a keeper saves a penalty that he is a hero, but then we can say the same with Andros.
“He did really well, I am really pleased for him — and hopefully he doesn’t need to save any more penalties. That would be fine.”
Benitez revealed Townsend had been practising free kicks but succeeded with one that did not come from the play book.
He said: “It was fantastic. We were practising different free kicks, but not this one, so he did well.”
Palace boss Alan Pardew, whose return to St James’ was greeted with relative indifference, chose not to speak to the written press after conducting his postmatch broadcast interviews, sending in assistant Keith Millen instead.
However, Pardew was in combative move when asked by radio journalists about Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce’s suggestion that his players would have been “on the pop” all week after reaching the FA Cup final.
He said: “He hasn’t got a case — just send him the video. They’re prehistoric comments. 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.”
Millen too responded to Allardyce’s comments, saying: “They didn’t affect us. We certainly know what we do. We want to finish the season strongly, there’s no way we have come off it at all – you could see that in our energy levels today.
“We made it a really tough game for Newcastle, who are fighting for their lives. Sam can say what he likes about us, but we know we are very professional in what we do.
“We want to finish the season strongly – we have got an FA Cup final to look forward to, so we want to win a couple of games before that to keep this momentum going.”