Rafa Benitez reacts to Aleksandar Mitrovic’s sensational return to Newcastle’s starting XI

Aleksandar Mitrovic gets mobbed after scoring against Preston. Picture by Frank Reid
Aleksandar Mitrovic gets mobbed after scoring against Preston. Picture by Frank Reid

Rafa Benitez hailed his Newcastle United players – and the club’s fans – after they blew away Preston North End.

Benitez’s side won 6-0 in front of a 49,042 crowd at St James’s Park last night to reach the quarter-finals of the EFL Cup.

The gate was the club’s second-highest in the League Cup ever.

Aleksandar Mitrovic and Mohamed Diame both scored twice, and Matt Ritchie and Ayoze Perez also found the net.

Mitrovic has only started three games this season – and two of them have ended in 6-0 wins.

United manager Benitez – whose side lead the Championship by three points – made seven changes for the fourth-round tie.

“It is important to have players pushing and trying to show they can do well,” said Benitez.

“We have three or four players who have not been playing too many games. They come in and they play at this level, it can only be positive for the team and the future.

“I’m really pleased to see Mitrovic, Diame, (Christian) Atsu, or even (DeAndre) Yedlin. There were a lot of positives.”

The crowd was just 860 short of the gate of 49,902 that saw Wembley-bound Newcastle beat Tottenham Hotspur in the home leg of a League Cup semi-final in 1976.

“I was surprised to see so many fans, but it is not a surprise in this case because they are coming and supporting the team and getting behind the team from the beginning,” said Benitez.

“I’m really pleased to see so many fans, and really pleased also because we played well. We scored goals and they will enjoy this for two or three days.”

Meanwhile, United midfielder Jack Colback was taken to hospital after being forced off with a head injury.

Preston’s Alan Brown was sent off for a reckless challenge on Colback.

Benitez said: “He has gone to hospital for an assessment. We have to wait, we don’t know how he is. But in terms of the game, I am really pleased with everything.”