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Benitez pushes Newcastle on in fight to secure survival

Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez has called for one final push against Southampton to edge the club over the Premier League finishing line.

The sides meet at St James’ Park on Saturday evening separated by one place and two points with the Saints chasing the Magpies hard after a run of four wins in their last six games.

Benitez’s men reached his predicted tally of 38 points for safety with last Friday night’s fine 1-0 win at Leicester, but Cardiff’s 2-0 victory at Brighton on Tuesday evening shifted the goal-posts once again.

The Spaniard said: “I said 38 a long time ago, but Cardiff won a couple of games and that changed everything and now, obviously, it’s even more important for us to win another game and be sure that everything is fine and we can start thinking about how high we can go in the table.

“But the main thing is to get three points in the next one.

“It depends on us, firstly, but also Southampton, Brighton and Cardiff. It’s very tight, but I’m sure that if we win this game, that will be enough.

“We have to be sure that we don’t approach the game with complacency and that we are really, really focused, like they will be.”

The Magpies had won five home games on the trot before Crystal Palace left Tyneside with a 1-0 victory a fortnight ago on a day when Benitez’s side was made to pay for missed chances, and the 59-year-old is expecting an equally tough contest.

However, he is refusing to be distracted by the ongoing saga over his own future with his contractual situation still unresolved despite weeks of talks.

That uncertainty too is spreading to the squad with reports this week, strenuously denied by the manager, that midfielder Matt Ritchie has been told he can leave the club this summer.

In the circumstances, Benitez has told his players to concentrate solely on the mission of mathematically securing the club’s top-flight status, something they could achieve this weekend with a win if Cardiff then lose to title-chasing Liverpool on Sunday.

He said: “We know that we have to maybe win another game to be sure that everything is fine, and I want to focus on that.

“I want to be sure that we get another three points and we will be safe because I think the job is not done, so we have to carry on and concentrate on the games.”