Ayoze Perez reveals his thoughts on his return to a striking role at Newcastle

Stoke City's Erik Pieters (left) and Newcastle United's Ayoze Perez battle for the ball.
Stoke City's Erik Pieters (left) and Newcastle United's Ayoze Perez battle for the ball.

Ayoze Perez was happy to fire Newcastle United into 2018 – after being give a surprise start up front.

Perez netted the club’s winner in the New Year’s Day win over Stoke City.

The forward was handed a start up front alongside Christian Atsu by Rafa Benitez.

And Perez, normally used as a No 10 by Benitez, netted a second-half winner at the bet365 Stadium.

He only found out that he was starting up front a couple of hours before the game.

Asked when he found out he was playing, Perez said: “Just two hours before the game once we got to the stadium.

“The gaffer gave us the instructions, the line-up, and that’s when you find out. You start talking with your team-mates about what we were going to do.

“We did really well and played good football. I’m happy for the win.”

Perez was used as a striker by Alan Pardew when he first arrived at St James’s Park in the summer of 2014.

And he enjoyed being back up front.

“It was really good, to be honest, to be back in the starting XI,” said Perez.

“It’s always important. I was also comfortable in that role. We did well.

“We played good football. We’ve got quality in the team to play good football. We did it and we won.”

The win, the club’s second successive away victory, took Newcastle up to 13th in the table.

“It’s massive,” said Perez. “Every team tries to protect themselves and get points and be strong in their own stadium.

“Against two important teams, we have done it. It’s really important. We focus on our form at home – that can be much better – but we have to keep pushing.”

While only 24, Perez, signed from Tenerife, is one of the most experienced Premier League players in Benitez’s youthful squad.

Perez has made 90 appearances – and scored 15 goals – in the English top flight.

And he hopes to bring that experience to bear in the second half of the campaign.

“I’m only 24 but I’ve played quite a lot for this amazing club,” said the Spaniard.

“I’m one of the oldest in the dressing room.

“We’re a young squad and a young team. We are improving under Rafa.

“After this busy couple of weeks, we have to keep pushing for the second part of the league.”

Benitez has changed his team over a festive period which has yielded seven points from four games.

And United’s manager will make more changes for Saturday’s third-round FA Cup tie against League Two club Luton Town at St James’s Park.

The fixture is followed by a home league game against Swansea City on January 13.

“This (cup) game could be good for whoever’s playing,” said Perez.

“We’re at home. We try to improve our form at home and get a good result and be competitive.

“The next league game is also at home against Swansea, so it’s going to be two important weeks.

“We have to be ready for it. We need to get more points. It’s going to be important.”