Rafa Benitez reveals ‘winning mentality’ he’s instilled in struggling Newcastle players

Rafa Benitez
Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez has told his Newcastle United players to mind the gap – and see off the challenge from Huddersfield Town.

The Championship leaders opened up a 10-point lead over David Wagner’s third-placed side after beating Wigan Athletic 2-1 at St James’s Park on Saturday.

And United’s manager believes a win over Burton Albion on Wednesday night would leave Huddersfield with a mountain to climb in the final few weeks of the campaign.

“I keep saying it’s a mini-league, and we have three points in this mini league,” said Benitez. “Hopefully, we can carry on. We’ve started it well this month.

“We have to concentrate on the next game to get a result. It’ll be easier to talk about the gap if we can win the next game, but we concentrate on one game at a time. Ten points is good.”

Huddersfield were condemned to a second successive defeat by a 96th-minute goal from Burton’s Jackson Irvine on Saturday.

Second-placed Brighton and Hove Albion, a point behind Newcastle, beat Blackburn Rovers 1-0 at the Amex Stadium.

Benitez questioned whether Huddersfield could handle the pressure of the run-in ahead of last month’s meeting at the John Smith’s Stadium.

“We’re talking all the time about what to do,” said Benitez. “You can see Brighton have problems. Huddersfield have problems to win easily.

“You can feel the pressure like everyone else. I said about Huddersfield feeling the pressure.”

Benitez’s players, many of whom were in the team relegated last season, themselves are having to cope with a different kind of pressure this season.

And he feels he’s managed to instill a “winning mentality” at the club.

“If you analyse the players we had (last season) ... in the end we were relegated, so these players don’t have that experience (of being at the top).

“The players we’ve bought haven’t won trophies. We’ve been top all season more or less. It’s not easy, and that’s the point. People are saying these players have come form the Premier League. Yes, but not from the top of the table or ones winning the league.

“These players were in the middle or the bottom of the table so we had to create an attitude where they play with confidence and winning mentality, which helps in games like this.”