Newcastle striker Dwight Gayle is ready for the new season – but he knows the Championship can be an unforgiving division.
The Magpies closed their pre-season programme with a 3-2 friendly victory over Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem at St James’s Park on Saturday.
Now the focus is fully on Friday night’s Championship opener at Fulham, who go into the game on a high following their 3-1 weekend victory over Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace.
Gayle, a summer signing from Palace, said: “It’s a tough season made harder by playing two games in a week.
“There are some great teams in this division. I’m sure there will be some great teams fighting for promotion, and it will not just be a one-horse race, I’m sure.”
With striker Aleksandar Mitrovic suspended, Gayle is set to start Friday’s season-opener at Craven Cottage.
“Obviously, we have great players other than Mitro, and everyone’s fighting for their position,” said Gayle, whose pace created problems for Vitesse on Saturday.
“Whoever the manager picks, I’m sure will be good enough to do the job.”
Gayle scored his first goal for the Tynesiders against the Dutch side, and the 25-year-old hopes there will be many more over the coming campaign as Newcastle attempt to win promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt.
“Most strikers want to get in the 20 goal bracket,” said Gayle. “Hopefully, I can do that this season. We will see where we go from there.”
Gayle added: “There are several things that made me swap the Premier League for the Championship next season. I’m certain this club will only be on the up from now on, and that is only going to be a positive.
“We have a great manager with great experience.
“I was surprised when I came in just how positive everyone is around the place. It didn’t feel like a team going in to the Championship from the Premier League. We are all just excited for the new season. We are raring to go.”
Meanwhile, boss Rafa Benitez is hopeful that centre-back Chancel Mbemba will be fit in time to face Fulham, after a twisted ankle ruled him out against Vitesse.
The Magpies’ first goal came midway through the first half from the leg of Vitesse’s Kelvin Leerdam, who diverted a ball from Matt Ritchie past keeper Eloy Room.
Gayle made it 2-0 with a close-range effort in the 36th minute, and Jack Colback headed a Perez cross into the net before the break.
Ritchie had a shot blocked early in the second half, but United struggled to stay in control on the restart.
Nathan scored from a corner in the 53rd minute, and Guram Kashia added another from a set-piece just past the hour-mark, but the Magpies, who made eight second-half changes, held on to win.
Benitez feels he will “enjoy” the challenge ahead of him. “I am happy and I have confidence in this team,” he said. “We have some time to keep working and trying to improve the squad.
“But I think it’s normal to what I’m used to. Yes, you have changed the competition, but in terms of a team you are a manager and you have the opportunity to keep working the way you want to work and you enjoy your job.”
Newcastle: Sels; Janmaat (Sterry 74), Hanley (Gamez 62), Lascelles, Dummett; Hayden (Saivet 74), Colback (Shelvey 62); Anita (Mitrovic 74), Perez (Armstrong 62), Ritchie (Aarons 62); Gayle (Gouffran 74). Subs not used: Darlow, Tiote, Thauvin. Goals: Leerdam (og) 22, Gayle 36, Colback 41
Vitesse Arnhem: Room, Leerdam (Lelieveld 71), Kashia, Kruiswijk, Ota, Nakamba, Baker, Vako (Foor 46), Rashica, Zhang (van Wolfswinkel 62), Nathan (van Bergen 71). Goals: Nathan 53, Kashia 61
Referee: Sebastien Stockbridge (Durham)