Rafa Benitez has told his Newcastle United players to forget about Sunderland – and focus on beating Aston Villa.
Benitez’s side climbed out of the Premier League’s relegation zone on Saturday.
A stunning second-half Andros Townsend free-kick – and a penalty save from Karl Darlow, who denied former United midfielder Yohan Cabaye – gave Newcastle a 1-0 win over Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace side at St James’s Park.
The result saw Sunderland – who claimed a point at Stoke City thanks to an injury-time penalty from Jermain Defoe – drop into the bottom three.
But Sam Allardyce’s side, now a point behind United, have a game in hand.
Norwich City, beaten by Arsenal, are a further point behind Newcastle in 19th place, and Alex Neil’s team also has a game in hand.
I was asking about the score, and they told me, but we just have to concentrate on our own game and our own points and look at what we can do and improve.Rafa Benitez
Benitez’s side take on relegated Villa on Saturday in their penultimate match of the campaign.
And the Spaniard insists that his players can’t be preoccupied with Sunderland – or Norwich – as they prepare for their visit to Villa Park, where United were relegated in 2009.
Asked about Defoe’s late equaliser, Benitez said: “You can’t do anything about that.
“I was asking about the score, and they told me, but we just have to concentrate on our own game and our own points and look at what we can do and improve.
“You can’t worry too much about the others because you can’t make the difference.
“I was just happy that we won and the way that we won. It’s the same with Norwich. We can’t have any influence on them.”
Newcastle have taken eight points from their last four games under Benitez, who succeeded Steve McClaren in early March after a dismal run of results.
“My feeling is that we are going in the right direction,” said Benitez.
“We’re doing the right things, but it’s not 100 per cent in our hands because Sunderland have a game in hand.
“We have to be ready for the game against Aston Villa, enjoy this game a little bit, but be ready for Villa. We have to win that and see how the others do.”
Asked if United would be higher up the table had he been in charge all season, Benitez added: “I think it’s not fair if I say something about that.
“Always, time is important for any manager. We are where we are and we enjoy now this challenge. We will try to enjoy it until the end.”
Benitez feels he has been helped by the return of a number of players from injury, though he has lost a number of players himself, including Rob Elliot and Massadio Haidara, to season-ending problems.
“When we came we had a lot of injuries,” said Benitez.
“We lost Elliot and Haidara who could have been an option, we were playing with (Vurnon) Anita at left-back at the beginning. Now we have to play him at right-back.
“There were too many problems, but the reaction of the players, and the way they work every day in training, is making a difference.
“I can give a message, but they have to go out on the pitch and perform.”
On the backing from United’s fans, Benitez added: “The fans are amazing now with me and with the team.
“Hopefully, it will be the same against Tottenham (on May 15), and they can make the difference.
“Now we have to enjoy this weekend then on Tuesday, the team has to be focused.”