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Norwich City v Newcastle United: Benitez desperate for confidence boost

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Rafael Benitez admits time is of the essence when it comes to saving Newcastle United’s Premier League status as they prepare to face Norwich City on Saturday.

The former Real Madrid boss has overseen a defeat to Leicester City and a 1-1 draw with fierce rivals Sunderland in his two games in charge since replacing Steve McClaren this month.

Newcastle are three points adrift of Norwich in 19th place and, though they have played a game less, a defeat at Carrow Road could all but end their chances of survival.

And Benitez, who has won all three of his previous league games with Norwich, concedes it is vital to restore some confidence to his squad if he is to mastermind an escape from relegation over the final eight games of the season.

“Every day is important for us because we don’t have too much time to send our ideas across,” he said, as quoted by the Newcastle Evening Chronicle.

“Leicester was just three days to see the players, try to lift their spirit and then we cancelled the day off to prepare tactically a little our ideas with them. But you cannot change things in three days.

“One week after we have the derby so [it’s] more difficult, almost impossible; I could see a great reaction from the team but still I could feel from the first half that they’re a side who lack confidence.”

History would appear to be on Newcastle’s side - they have lost none of their last six Premier League games with Norwich and hammered them 6-2 in the reverse match in October.

Alex Neil’s side ended a run of 11 games without a win just before the international break, however, snatching a valuable 1-0 victory away at West Brom to give their survival bid a shot in the arm.

With games against fellow strugglers Crystal Palace and Sunderland to come over the next month, midfielder Jonny Howson is in no doubt over the importance of a positive result this weekend.

“Whenever you’re down there and coming up against the teams in and around you, that’s why they’re called six pointers,” he said, as quoted by the Eastern Daily Press. “But I think every game from now until the end of the season is going to be like that.

“We’ve kind of set the standard now but every game is different. But certainly if we’ve got everyone pulling in the same direction, then we give ourselves a great chance.”

Norwich hope to have Steven Naismith available after the forward withdrew from the Scotland squad due to a hamstring problem, but Nathan Redmond and Alex Tettey (both ankle) remain out.

Newcastle were dealt a major blow when goalkeeper Rob Elliot suffered a serious knee injury on international duty this week, meaning Karl Darlow is expected to make his first appearance for the club since December.

The visitors hope to have Kevin Mbabu fit again, while Daryl Janmaat, Cheick Tiote and Gabriel Obertan are fighting to be available. Jack Colback is suspended and Fabriccio Coloccini (calf), Tim Krul (knee), Paul Dummett (hamstring), Massadio Haidara (knee) and Sylvain Marveaux (groin) are set to miss out.

Key Opta Stats:

- Norwich City haven’t lost at home to Newcastle United in the Premier League since January 1994, winning three and drawing two since then.
- Newcastle have lost each of their last seven away games in the Premier League, scoring just twice – their longest run without a win on the road in the league since a nine-game run between May-October 1977.
- The Canaries have won none of their last five Premier League games at Carrow Road (D2 L3). They haven’t won back-to-back league games since January.
- The Magpies have won just seven away points this season, with only Aston Villa collecting fewer than them (six).

- Only in one previous top-flight campaign have Newcastle had fewer points from 30 games than this season (24 in 1977-78, assuming three points for a win). Newcastle were relegated that season.

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