Rafa Benitez has challenged his Newcastle United side to put their Villa Park disappointment behind them – and take the fight to Championship leaders Norwich.
An 88th-minute Aaron Tshibola header saw the Magpies held to a 1-1 draw by Aston Villa on Saturday night, keeping them in fifth place ahead of Wednesday’s visit of Alex Neil’s Canaries.
Newcastle dominated the first half at Villa Park, but they failed to take their chances and only led at the break through a Tommy Elphick own goal.
Isaac Hayden found DeAndre Yedlin on the right and the American’s low cross was intended for Dwight Gayle but, as the striker prepared to pounce, Elphick deflected it across and past keeper Pierluigi Gollini from four yards.
Villa laid seige to the visitors’ goal late in the game, and former Hartlepool loanee Tshibola headed a corner past Matz Sels at the far post to secure their point.
Newcastle manager Benitez was frustrated at his team’s first-half finishing and second-half defending.
“All the managers when they have these results will say the same,” said Benitez. “You have chances, you know you have to take those chances. That’s it.
“We had clear chances. Normally, we have scored goals in all the games. We have been in more or less the same situation where we have two or three chances and you score one or two goals.
“We didn’t score and we have to improve our defending. The main thing for me, or the positive thing for me, was the first half. The team were strong enough to defend and create.”
Norwich went top after a 3-1 home win over Burton Albion. Asked if the midweek clash is a game Newcastle simply cannot afford to lose, Benitez said: “I am not thinking this way. I am thinking about the next game and three points. I don’t see the table before the game and think ‘oh, we have to do this’.
“Just like this game. Try to get three points and see where we are after. We deserved to win after our first half. We couldn’t. After we say to control Aston Villa away is a good result? Maybe for a lot of teams, yes.
“For us, after that first half, no. In the end, it’s what you have. You just have to be sure that everybody will be working hard for the next game.”
The Championship is proving every bit as demanding as was predicted. “We knew that it would be difficult,” said Benitez.
“We cannot control what other people say. We know and we can see the games and the opponents, and we know this is a strong competition and very difficult.
“We have to continue working because you will lose some games you do not expect. I am confident that we will be there. We have to keeping working as hard as we are working every day.”
Aston Villa: Gollini, Chester, Elphick, Baker (Tshibola 46), Adomah (Gestede 63), Westwood (Hepburn-Murphy 86), Jedinak, Amavi, Bacuna, Kodjia, Ayew. Booked: Chester, Baker, Tshibola. Goal: Tshibola 88.
Newcastle: Sels, Yedlin (Tiote 75), Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Ritchie, Hayden, Shelvey, Gouffran, Diame, Gayle (Mitrovic 80). Subs not used: Hanley, Lazaar, Perez, Darlow, Atsu. Booked: Shelvey. Goal: Elphick 28 og. Att: 32,062. Ref: Chris Kavanagh