Christian Atsu reveals what Rafa Benitez has said to Newcastle's players ahead of their season-defining week...
The Magpies could have opened up a seven-point gap between themselves and the second tier play-off spots with victory over Bristol City on Saturday.
But a stuttering first 45 minutes saw them fall two goals behind and they only rescued what could prove a valuable point late on to at least maintain their five-point lead over third-top Huddersfield.
They did, however, relinquish top spot with tomorrow’s opponents Brighton outclassing Reading in Saturday’s late kick off.
And Atsu has revealed just what Benitez said to the players in the aftermath of the St James’s Park disappointment.
“He is always encouraging us to keep learning, keep concentrating and learn from our mistakes,” said the Ghanian international.
“He wants us to stay focused for the next few games.”
Focus is exactly what United need to what could prove a season-defining week.
A trip to the league leading Seagulls tomorrow is followed up by a visit to Huddersfield, then Reading.
Atsu continued: “It’s very important for the games ahead, they are the most important ones.
“We will prepare well, we are mentally strong and we are really focused on what we want to achieve.
“We approach every game with 100 per cent concentration.
“We have very good team spirit, we are really organised and it is difficult for teams to break us down.
“It is football, anything can happen.
“We’re going there to Brighton to work hard and try to win for Newcastle.”
Reflecting back on the encounter, in which an own goal and a late Ciaran Clark header overturned Aaron Wilbraham and David Cotterill’s first-half efforts, he said: “It’s two points dropped.
“It’s a game that we have to win and not drop points in.
“But there are so many surprises in football so we just have to concentrate on Brighton.
“In the first half they defended really well and we conceded two early goals.
“In the second half we tried to press them more, and we were much better and created a lot of chances from which we could have won the game.”
All told, it’s an encounter United should probably have won.
They certainly had the chances to do so late on.
“I keep being positive and I thought we could have won it,” said Atsu.
“The way we conceded the two goals in the first half is the same way they could concede in the second half too.
“I’m always positive and all we needed to do was score the first goal, we did it and then equalised to make it 2-2, then we created a lot of chances and we could have won the game.”
While it may not have been the positive return he had hoped for, it was a return all the same for Atsu, who had not started for United since the 3-1 win over Nottingham Forest on December 30.
Of course, it was bittersweet, especially as he had the chance to claim all three points in the closing stages, but scuffed wide from close range.
“I’m very happy to play,” said Atsu.
“But I’m really disappointed for myself because I could have scored at the end to the win the game.
“I have to score.
“There have been many games in which I could not score and I’m really disappointed that I could not score.”