Townsend can win England place if he keeps Newcastle up, says Rafa Benitez
Newcastle United boss Rafa Benitez has told Andros Townsend he can play his way into the England squad for Euro 2016 by helping to keep the Magpie safe from Premier League relegation.
The 24-year-old winger, a £12million January signing from Tottenham, starred and scored in the 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace which eased the Magpies out of the drop zone last weekend to underline a run of good form.
With Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain having been ruled out of the Euros by a knee injury, there is a vacancy in Roy Hodgson’s squad, and Benitez is convinced Townsend, who last played for his country against Lithuania in October, can fill it.
The Spaniard said: “For me, yes, I think he’s doing so well that he can be in the squad without any problem.
“He has quality, but it is not just that quality from free-kicks and the way that he plays, it is that he works so hard also helping the team in defence.
“When you are a manager, you are looking for players you can trust. He can make the difference in attack, but he also helps in defence.
“Physically, he is fine now and has a lot of confidence in himself.”
If Townsend was Newcastle’s hero last Saturday – it was his free-kick which clinched victory, although it took a fine penalty save by keeper Karl Darlow to deny Yohan Cabaye an equaliser – Benitez knows his team will need more key contributions from individuals over the remaining two games of the season, which ends with Tottenham’s trip to St James’ Park.
Both Sunderland and Norwich have a game in hand on the Magpies, but victory at Villa Park could prove crucial in a fight for survival which looked forlorn just a few weeks ago.
The manager said: “I would like to see a hero in every game because that means we have done something good.
“But the team has to be the key for us. They have to work very hard and then you might see the individual qualities making a difference. I think we have three or four players who can make a difference, but they need the team to support them. That is what we are seeing in every game now.
“Andros was very good last weekend, impressive not just with the goal, but he needed the other players around him to be working so hard to make sure we had a clean sheet and a good result.”