Rafa Benitez says it could get worse before it gets better for Newcastle United.
Benitez’s injury-hit side take on West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns tonight looking to end a run of four successive Premier League defeats.
The club dropped down to 14th in the table after the weekend’s 3-0 loss to Watford at St James’s Park.
Benitez remains confident that his team can stay away from the relegation zone.
However, United’s manager has acknowledged the “reality” of the situation given that Newcastle are competing with clubs with better squads.
“I think I have the hope and the belief that we will stay ahead of the bottom three,” said Benitez, whose side was as high as sixth last month.
If we can bring in better players in the future, good. Competition’s good. But in January, it (the club’s position) could be even worse, so we have to stick together and be sure that until the end of the season, we maximise what we have. That’s it.Rafa Benitez
“I have this belief – there’s no question about that.
“But the reality is the reality. Our fans – who have been amazing home and away – know and they knew.
“The problem is that we were doing so well at the beginning that maybe they thought we could do even better.
“But as soon as you have two or three injuries, then you know that the squad’s not as big as it seems in terms of numbers and we have to manage the situation.”
While the squad is short of Premier League quality and experience, Benitez is adamant that there’s no shortage of commitment in his dressing room.
“My concern is that when I came here, a lot of people were questioning the players’ commitment,” said Benitez.
“But in the Championship no-one was questioning it, and this year, when we were sixth in the table, no-one was saying it either.
“This time it’s working very hard. I’m reminding people of this. This group is doing very well, but they may be low on confidence at times or not at the level.
“But still they are working and trying to do their best, which is what I like.”
Benitez hopes to strengthen his squad in January’s transfer window.
However, with the club up for sale, Benitez doesn’t know how much he will have to spend in the New Year.
“If we can bring in better players in the future, good,” said the 57-year-old.
“Competition’s good. But in January, it (the club’s position) could be even worse, so we have to stick together and be sure that until the end of the season, we maximise what we have. That’s it.”
Brighton and Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town, promoted with Newcastle last season, are ahead of the club in the table.
Benitez, however, has pointed to their net spends.
Brighton and Huddersfield both spent almost £40million on players in the summer transfer window. United’s net spend was far lower.
“The reality’s that if you want to sign a striker who can score 20 goals every year, it’s £40million,” said Benitez.
“An average striker’s £20million or £30million. We didn’t do that, so we are where we are.
“We have to compete against Huddersfield, Brighton and Burnley, but we couldn’t compete against those clubs and sign the players they were signing.
“We couldn’t pay the prices they were paying or the wages they were offering.
“This group of players can manage if we stay calm and continue in the same way.
“Our fans know where we are and why we are here.”
Benitez, for the moment, is reluctant to look beyond the club’s next game.
“I’m not worried about anything apart from West Bromwich Albion at the moment,” said Benitez, who called for unity in his pre-match press conference.
“What I can see is what can happen.
“But my focus now is to improve this team, and, as I said before, I think we can stay in the Premier League and maybe we can do better.
“But we need to stay calm and we need to know that the target is 20 points now (at the halfway stage of the season) and 20-plus after.
“We can compete against a lot of teams if we work as a team.
“We cannot compete against teams if we start blaming each other and pass the blame, like in the past here, and then don’t take any responsibility.
“If I make mistakes, I go (and) sit down with my staff. I talk with them, talk with the players and we say ‘maybe we have to change this or that’.
“Everybody has an opinion – that’s football, that’s fair – but our fans, they have to realise that our reality is that from September 1 that is the group of players that we have and we have to stick together.”