Newcastle’s “scared” players “need help” to build the mental toughness needed to avoid relegation, manager Rafa Benitez said.
The Magpies capitulated 3-1 at Southampton on Saturday, their dreadful defensive showing gifting the hosts an easy victory.
Centre back Steven Taylor, who was motionless as Shane Long opened the scoring, was withdrawn at half-time, though Benitez admits it was a result of a niggling injury.
“Steven felt a bit of stiffness, so I think it was a big risk to keep a player with problems on the pitch, especially with the problems we have in defence,” said Benitez.
“So we had to change him, and that’s it.
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Newcastle allowed Graziano Pelle to double the lead under little to no resistance and Victor Wanyama’s goal wrapped up Saints’ victory inside the hour, just leaving Andros Townsend to fire a good-looking but meaningless riposte for Newcastle.
“Obviously we go into games a little bit scared and once we make the first mistake everybody loses the belief,” Benitez explained.
“And it’s something that we have to change one way or another.
“Some of them I think they are strong enough mentally, but some of them need help.
“And we will try to help them one way or another. But we need to see which players we can count on and who can give what we are expecting.”
Benitez admitted he was furious with his players at the break, but insisted there will be no recrimination or finger-pointing as Newcastle target four wins from four home matches as an unlikely route to safety.
“At half-time, that could be the angriest I’ve been so far, yes. But it’s not a question of shouting but saying the right things.
“You have to be upset, and I was really upset. I was telling them that the performance of the first half was not acceptable.
“We had to change and start with the commitment, passion and character.
“We had to change players, move some from one side to the other.
“It was obvious that we couldn’t win with this mentality and playing in this way.
“My concern was I couldn’t believe how we started the first half after the hard work that the players were doing during the week.
“The games at home are crucial for us. So we have to approach them as one.
“The confidence we must improve a lot, we have to get three points and that can change everything if we are capable of doing that.
“It’s not the time to complain and blame each other, it’s time to realise we have to stick together.
“We have four games at home and that is the key if we want to stay in the Premier League.”
Newcastle host Swansea next and are six points from safety.