Newcastle keeper Karl Darlow has saluted the influence of manager Rafa Benitez in the Magpies’ push for Premier League survival.
Last week’s crucial home win over Crystal Palace, sealed by Darlow’s penalty save to deny Yohan Cabaye – lifted the Tynesiders out of the drop zone.
Three points at already-relegated Aston Villa tomorrow would go a long way towards giving Newcastle hope of safety, and 25-year-old Darlow praised Benitez’s work in transforming Newcastle’s fortunes.
The former Nottingham Forest keeper said: “He has been brilliant. He’s tactically very, very good.
“It is well known he is an unbelievable manager.
“There’s a lot of respect from the players for what he has done in his past.
“Everyone is listening to his thoughts about what he wants us to do on the pitch.”
Darlow got his chance in goal because of the season-ending knee injuries suffered by experienced pair Tim Krul and Rob Elliot.
And the 25-year-old knows he must maintain his form over the next 180 minutes if Newcastle, unbeaten in four games, are to stay in the Premier League.
“I have to take the chance and finish well in the next two games,” he said. “We need to stay in this league.”
Asked if he felt it was his time to shine after so long in the shadows, Darlow said: “In a way, I felt like that, yes.
“I have trained hard all season. As a footballer, and a professional footballer, it’s your job to go in to work every day and work hard.
“Sometimes, it pays off, and days like (against Palace) are special. Hopefully, all that hard will hard work will pay off for me and we can see this through.”
The Aston Villa Protest Group of fans angry at the running of the club by owner Randy Lerner will attempt to take centre stage in the 74th minute of the match, when 74 beach balls and 2,500 balloons will be released “in celebration of the supporters”.
Mark Bricknell, one of the organisers, said: “The mass release of energy in the 74th-minute is an act of defiance and a show of solidarity.
“It is a celebration of the one good thing currently about the club under Randy Lerner – us the supporters’
“We want to show any potential new owners that as long as the supporters have breath in our bodies this club has plenty of life left in it and will return. The actions will be two-part. The serious side is the march (prior to the game) then during the match we will celebrate. We hope it will create a jovial experience.”