Toon boss plays it cool ahead of PNE visit

Rafa Benitez with Simon Grayson (right)
Rafa Benitez with Simon Grayson (right)
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Preston North End stand in the way of glory for the Toon Army tonight.

Newcastle bid to secure promotion to the Premier League at the first time of asking following their relegation last season.

But Magpies boss Rafael Benitez will head into his moment of destiny having seen it all before.

The much-decorated Spaniard, whose CV includes Champions League glory, will send out the Toon against Simon Grayson’s Lilywhites tonight knowing victory will take them back into the top flight after the briefest possible absence.

In the grand scheme of things, that may not represent the biggest achievement of his career but – after a wobble over Easter – Tyneside will be nervous and he will draw upon his experience of guiding Tenerife into Spain’s top flight back in 2001.

Benitez said: “When you play a final, sometimes you don’t have time to be nervous with the tension.

“You try to do your best, trust yourself in terms of decisions. You may make mistakes or not, but you trust yourself.

“I was promoted with Tenerife. It went to the last game of the season and we were fighting against Atletico Madrid. We were playing Leganes and Atletico Madrid were playing Getafe, 10km from each other, and our stadium was full of Atletico Madrid fans.

“We needed to win because we knew they would win, and we were 1-0 up. It’s a game where you have to be calm and do the right things, so I have experience of this situation.

“But my experience doesn’t matter because I can give advice to the players, I can talk about staying calm, but after they go home for 22 hours, I don’t see them any more. I see them the day after and give the same message, but it depends on how each player reacts.”

A return of just a single point from Newcastle’s last three games set the alarm bells ringing and allowed Brighton to secure promotion.

But Benitez believes their experience as seasoned Championship campaigners has served Chris Hughton’s men well.

He said: “When you talk about Brighton, you see the players they have – some of them are 37-years-old, some of them have been here for three or four years in a row in this situation. That is experience.

“We have made some mistakes – for me, that is lack of experience.

But we have done really well and we are where we are because we have done a lot of good things.”