Rafa Benitez has challenged his Newcastle United side to put their Villa Park disappointment behind them – and take the fight to Norwich City.
An 88th-minute goal from Aaron Tshibola saw the club held to a 1-1 draw by Aston Villa on Saturday night.
And the result left the club fifth in the Championship ahead of Wednesday night’s home game against new league leaders Norwich.
Newcastle dominated the first half at Villa Park, but they couldn’t take their chances and only led at the break through a Tommy Elphick own goal.
Villa laid seige to United’s goal late in the game, and Tshibola headed a corner past Matz Sels at the far post to claim a point for his team.
United manager Benitez was frustrated at his team’s first-half finishing and second-half defending.
“All the managers when they have these results will say the same,” said Benitez. “You have chances, you know you have to take those chances. That’s it.
“We had clear chances. Normally, we have scored goals in all the games. We have been in more or less the same situation where we have two or three chances and you score one or two goals.
“We didn’t score and we have to improve our defending. The main thing for me, or the positive thing for me, was the first half. The team were strong enough to defend and create.”
Norwich went top after a 3-1 home win over Burton Albion.
Asked if the visit of Alex Neil’s side was a game Newcastle simply couldn’t afford to lose, Benitez said: “I am not thinking this way.
“I am thinking about the next game and three points. I don’t see the table before the game and think ‘oh, we have to do this’.
“Just like this game. Try to get three points and see where we are after. We deserved to win after our first half. We couldn’t. After we say to control Aston Villa away is a good result? Maybe for a lot of teams, yes.
“For us after that first half, no. In the end it’s what you have. You just have to be sure that everybody will be working hard for the next game.”
The Championship is proving every bit as demanding as was predicted when United dropped out of the Premier League.
“We knew that it would be difficult,” said Benitez. “We cannot control what other people say.
“We know and we can see the games and the opponents, and we know this is a strong competition and very difficult.
“We have the same feeling. I have the same feeling that we can be there. We have to keep working hard.
“Some games like this we will win. We have to continue working because you will lose some games you do not expect. I am confident that we will be there. We have to keeping working as hard as we are working every day.”