Rafa Benitez has urged Newcastle United to stay calm until the last game of the season – even though his only previous relegation fight ended in final-day disaster.
Newcastle are staring relegation in the face after slipping to second-bottom of the Premier League table.
Benitez, tasked with saving the Magpies from the drop after replacing Steve McClaren earlier this month, is more associated with winning trophies than fighting relegation battles, but he revealed he has experienced a dogfight at the bottom of the table before in Spain’s Primera Division.
And while he was unable to save Extremadura from the drop in 1999 after losing a play-off, he says Newcastle must keep calm until the last game of the season at home to Tottenham in their bid to avoid falling into the Championship.
“Each team is different, each situation is different,” said Benitez. “This one, they said I didn’t have experience of relegation battles, but I had experience at Extremadura.
“The main thing I told the chairman was: ‘Stay calm. Stay calm until the end of the season.’
“Extremadura is a small team, it’s a small village that were promoted to the first division and it was a miracle – a miracle. Then the same coach that was very close to the chairman, he was still in charge and they lost their first seven games.
“He was in a panic to sign players in January and they were relegated.
“Then I signed for them and we were promoted again, that was another miracle because you lose your best players to the Premier League and to the Champions League.
“Then I told him (the chairman): ‘I will sign two years but you have to guarantee that I will stay two years. You have to stay calm because we can be safe at the end of the season.’
“He says: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’
“The last game we played against Villarreal and we were fifth-from-bottom; two were relegated, two were going to have to play in the play-offs.
“We had a problem with the centre-back, we had a problem with injuries, and then we drew against Villarreal and we had to play the play-off, and we were relegated.
“People say ‘Oh you were relegated,’ but we were fine until the last day.
“So what I am trying to say is we have the last game of the season against Tottenham, and we are fine for now so what we have to do is believe we can do it.
“If early, much better. If not, carry on, carry on and then we have our chances.”
BATTLE FOR SURVIVAL
Crystal Palace: West Ham (a), Norwich (h), Everton (h), Arsenal (a), Manchester Utd (a), Newcastle (a),Stoke (h), Southampton (a)
Norwich: Newcastle (h), Crystal Palace (a), Sunderland (h), Arsenal (a), Manchester Utd (h), Watford (h), Everton (a)
Sunderland: West Brom (h), Leicester (h), Norwich (a), Arsenal (h), Stoke (a), Chelsea (h), Everton (h), Watford (a)
Newcastle: Norwich (a), Southampton (a), Swansea (h), Manchester City (h), Liverpool (a), Crystal Palace (h), Aston Villa (a), Tottenham (h)
Aston Villa: Chelsea (h), Bournemouth (h), Manchester Utd (a), Southampton (h), Watford (a), Newcastle (h), Arsenal (a)