Benitez ready for last two 'Cup final' games

LONDON • Rafael Benitez says Newcastle face two "Cup finals" as their bid to avoid relegation from the Premier League looks set to go down to the wire.

Benitez's side climbed out of the bottom three for the first time in almost two months thanks to Saturday's dramatic 1-0 victory over FA Cup finalists Crystal Palace, who themselves are not quite safe from danger.

Despite Palace's slump, realistically Newcastle (33 points) are in a three-way battle with local rivals Sunderland (32) and Norwich City (31) to avoid the two remaining places to join Aston Villa in the Championship next season.

After giving their survival hopes renewed hope with a fourth unbeaten game thanks to Andros Townsend's free-kick goal and Karl Darlow's late penalty save, Benitez's side travel to Villa before hosting Tottenham on the final day of the season.

Victory in their final two games might be enough to avoid a second relegation in seven years.

But, with Sunderland and Norwich enjoying a game in hand over them, Benitez knows Newcastle will have to maintain the impressive performance levels.

"It's important for us that we're out of the bottom three," said Benitez, who is eight games into a 10-match rescue mission he inherited in March.

"We still have to keep going and we have to approach the game against Villa as another final.

"People have asked me if we have to win our last two games to stay up but I say it's just about winning the next one, and then after that we think about the final game. That's the only way you can approach our situation."

At Stoke City, Jermain Defoe's 93rd-minute penalty rescued a point for Sunderland in the 1-1 draw, much to manager Sam Allardyce's delight.

"I am going home satisfied. It is a point gained rather than two dropped. We have our destiny in our own hands and have got to play better so if the referee slips up we have got to make sure it doesn't cost us," he said.

Sunderland remain in the bottom three but are just a point behind Newcastle.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'Benitez ready for last two 'Cup final' games'. Print Edition | Subscribe