So near and yet so far.
Newcastle United are, potentially, just a handful of points away from securing automatic promotion.
I think it is really important for everyone to understand – for me, for staff, for players, fans, for you (the media) – that we can be talking and talking, but we have to do our job. We have to finish it off.Rafa Benitez
But Rafa Benitez doesn’t yet believe his team is close to achieving its goal.
Benitez’s side are 10 points ahead of third-placed Huddersfield Town, who have a game in hand.
Asked if Newcastle were “close” to promotion ahead of this evening’s game against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough (5.30pm kick-off), Benitez said: “Close to tomorrow? Yes.
“I think it is really important for everyone to understand – for me, for staff, for players, fans, for you (the media) – that we can be talking and talking, but we have to do our job. We have to finish it off.
“We are in a good position, and what we have to be sure is that in every single game we try and get three points because they are all important for us.
“If we cannot, then we need to get back to winning. We cannot be talking about ‘if’. Concentrate on this.”
Asked if his caution was down to his “experience” in the game, United’s 56-year-old manager added: “It’s not my experience – it’s the experience of anyone in football for years.
“It’s so obvious that, especially now with three points for a win, when it was two then sometimes a draw was fine.
“Now with three points, a win is very important.
“It means I am old, because some young people don’t realise it used to be two points for a win.
“Imagine if your team is doing really well, but you have three draws, maybe in three away games. But that’s just the same as one win.
“It’s important to understand that every game we have to concentrate on that, and not think too much about the table, or any other things.”
Meanwhile, Wednesday, last season’s beaten play-off finalists, are looking to secure their place in the top six.
Carlos Carvalhal’s side are sixth in the division.
Carvalhal says Newcastle are where they are by rights with six games left to play.
“Before the season, everybody agreed that Newcastle are the No 1 candidate for promotion,” said Carvalhal, whose side beat United 1-0 at St James’s Park on Boxing Day.
“When you reach this stage of the season and they are top, they are the best in the division, not just in theory, but in practice.
“When you play the team that is first in the table, it’s the most difficult game of the season, for sure.
“It’s a big challenge to us. We respect them a lot.
“They have plenty of quality, quality individuals, a collective quality with a good manager.
“But we are Sheffield Wednesday. We play in Hillsborough and we will be ready to the game, understanding that we are playing against the strongest side of the competition.
“To be near and near our best level is what we need that to achieve the points.”
On the Hillsborough fixture, Carvalhal added: ”The games are more strategic when the teams at the highest level play each other.
“We need to play near our best level. If we don’t, it will be very difficult to achieve points.”
Benitez will also give Wednesday the respect he feels they deserve.
“When you have the same manager, you have more or less the same team, you know the division and have been working with the same players for a while, then the understanding between them all is good,” he said.
“The gameplan for them is easy to follow.
“You could see it was a good game (on Boxing Day), and preparing for this game we have seen more or less the same things:
“A good team, well organised, know what to do, dangerous. And if they are in the play-offs, it’s because they deserve to be there.”