NORWICH, England (REUTERS) - Newcastle United's Premier League survival hopes took a blow with a 3-2 defeat at Norwich City on Saturday that left them second-bottom and six points adrift of their opponents whose own hopes of staying up are improving by the week.
Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez must have thought he had pulled off a masterstroke when he brought on Aleksandar Mitrovic and the Serbian, who did not start because of his midweek international exertions, scored twice, including a penalty.
But the defensive problems that have undermined Newcastle's season continued when Norwich's Martin Olsson was then allowed to score a late winner that leaves United staring at relegation along with north-east rivals Sunderland.
"When you concede after the last minute of the first half and the last minute of the second half, after what we did in the second half, it's really painful," said Benitez.
"The only thing we can take as a positive is the reaction of the team."
Newcastle twice levelled the score through Mitrovic after a Timm Klose header in first half injury time and a stunning Dieumerci Mbokani strike had given Norwich the lead, but they were undone by Olsson in the third minute of added time.
"When we were two each we had the control, we were sustaining attacks but we made another mistake and gave them the chance to score another goal," a disgruntled Benitez told reporters.
"We gave them the belief they could win."
The result leaves Newcastle two points behind north-east rivals Sunderland, who drew at home with West Bromwich Albion, and six adrift of fourth-bottom Norwich, though Benitez's side have played one game less than the Canaries.
Asked if he could keep his new team up, the much-travelled Spaniard said: "It will not be easy, It will be a difficult task. We have to try to give this (second half) level for 90 minutes in the next seven games.
"The only thing we can do is give them confidence, give instructions in training and make them work very hard. We have seven games and we have to start winning."
Norwich manager Alex Neil has consistently said his side have enough quality to beat the drop and two wins and a draw in their last three games have helped their cause.
"It was a sweet way to win the game but it was no more than we deserved," the Scot said.
"Today was a crucial win for us. The players will think we've got a really good chance now."