Rafa Benitez has this to say to Newcastle fans planning to protest against Mike Ashley

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez
Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez says he understands why Newcastle United fans are planning an 11th-minute walk-in protest at St James’s Park.

The Magpie Group has called on supporters to delay their entry for this afternoon’s home game against West Ham United in protest against Mike Ashley’s 11-year tenure as owner.

A full boycott is planned for the December 9 fixture against Wolverhampton Wanderers at St James’s Park.

The Magpie Group, formed from a network of supporter groups in the summer, has called for Ashley to sell up.

“The fans have been here longer than me – they’re entitled to do what they want to do,” said manager Benitez.

“They know my idea, that I’m pleased to see everyone supporting the team.

Rafa Benitez

I understand what they think. But at the same time, if they are in the stadium, they have to support the team and the players will appreciate that.

“What I have said before is what I can say now. So am I in favour of anything? To be sure the team has the support it needs.”

Benitez just wants fans to back his team when they are in the stadium – whether that be for 90 minutes or 79 minutes.

“My job is to be sure the players are fine and concentrating on West Ham,” said Benitez, whose side have won their last three Premier League games.

“I cannot control other things. I have a lot of respect for our fans, because they’re supporting our team, supporting me.

“I understand what they think. But at the same time, if they are in the stadium, they have to support the team and the players will appreciate that.

“If they are there, I’m sure they will support the team. But it’s not my decision.”

Asked about the plan for a boycott of the Wolves game, Benitez added: “I understand the idea, what they want to do, but I really want to concentrate and focus on the team, and that’s it.

“My concern is for the players, that they’re fine and when they go on the pitch, they’re ready. That’s it.”

Asked if he understood the motives of the supporters behind the protests, Benitez said: “I have been here for a while now, so I know what they think.

“I have to concentrate on what I can manage.”

Newcastle have won their last two home games.

Ashley attended the fixtures against Bournemouth and Watford and heard the stadium get behind Benitez’s side.

“Don’t forget against Brighton, we had many attempts so we were there but we lost,” said Benitez.

“We did a lot of things right, but it was still not enough. If you give the fans something more to cheer about, then we go there.

“We have nothing to lose at the moment. We were unlucky against Brighton, and then we were better. Try to be sure we’re on the front foot.

“We have to try a similar approach, because 52,000 fans all together, it’s a massive support.”

The club is 13th in the Premier League.

And Benitez believes 36 points will be enough to secure safety this season.

“I told the players it’s one game at a time – it’s crucial to understand that,” said Benitez.

“Every game is a final for us. I told the players we have done nothing yet – we still have to win a lot of games to get to 36 points.

“Even when it was difficult, I was convinced we would do well.

“Now we’re in a good run, and we have to carry on.

“West Ham have spent £100million, and have experience and quality everywhere. It’s always a tough test.”