Benitez coy on Newcastle survival hopes as key star returns

Rafael Benitez has dismissed suggestions that victory over Huddersfield would end Newcastle’s Premier League relegation fears.

The Magpies entertain the Terriers, who emerged from the Sky Bet Championship along with them at the end of last season, at St James’ Park on Saturday knowing the winners would take a significant step towards survival.

However, even if his side did increase their tally to 35 points – just five short of his target – with seven games still to play, the Spaniard would be taking nothing for granted.

Benitez said: “No, no chance, I don’t agree. If we win tomorrow, it will be a big step forward, but I still say 40 points is the figure.

“It may be less, but we have to play, we have to win and, after that, still we have to keep fighting because we still have a lot of games to play.

“When you are getting closer to the end, these games are even more important. We know our position and for us, it’s a massive game. It’s a massive game also for them. Depending on this game, things could be a little bit easier, but still we will have to keep going to the end.

“It’s not that you finish the season here, so we have to be sure we play well, we get three points and after, still we have to keep fighting.”

A third successive home win, with Manchester United and Southampton having left Tyneside empty-handed, would nevertheless provide a major boost and leave Huddersfield still in the thick of the fight.

The presence of January loan signing Islam Slimani in the squad for the first time following his recovery from the thigh injury with which he arrived from Leicester will provide Benitez with another option, although he will be without fellow frontman Joselu, who is sidelined by an ankle problem.

Slimani was drafted in to provide much-needed goals, although, despite his absence from the pitch, he has already had an influence, according to his manager.

Benitez said: “Just signing him, we improved the competition between the strikers so that was positive. He was not training, but he was still around.

“To have another player, another face, another characteristic in your attack means you can be a little bit stronger. It means the others will push harder.”

Winger Matt Ritchie will also be available after recovering from the groin problem which prompted his withdrawal from the Scotland squad last weekend.