Rafa Benitez following in Kevin Keegan’s footsteps as he plots rise of relegated Newcastle

Even so, Newcastle are the Championship’s aristocrats with resources none of their rivals can match.

Pre-season confidence, Benitez admits, is a double-edged sword. Promotion, he stresses, will be earned, not granted.

But Newcastle will have over 6,000 fans backing them tonight while St James’ Park will be almost sold out for most home games, such is the feel good factor around the place.

The manager hopes such buoyancy creates momentum rather than breed complacency.

“This league is difficult,” he said. “But we have changed the mentality and the atmosphere. We are a good team and we can be one of the best teams but there is still plenty of work for us to improve.

“I would like to say we will win easily tomorrow but I do not think so. For us, it is still a long journey.”

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