Rafa Benitez has backed Aleksandar Mitrovic after the misfiring striker drew another blank for Newcastle United.
Mitrovic missed a series of chances in Saturday’s 2-2 Championship draw at home to Bristol City.
And boss Benitez must choose between Mitrovic and ex-Sunderland frontman Daryl Murphy for tomorrow night’s crucial match at new leaders Brighton – if Dwight Gayle fails to prove his fitness in time to play at the Amex Stadium.
Mitrovic has scored just one goal for second-placed Newcastle since late October.
But Benitez is backing the 22-year-old.
Asked if the Serbian striker was lacking confidence, Benitez said: “No, I don’t think so.
“I was really pleased for him the other day (against Aston Villa). He worked hard, and if he scores goals, he would be happier and with more confidence.”
Gayle, meanwhile, worked over the weekend on his fitness.
The 20-goal striker limped out of last Monday’s win over Aston Villa after feeling his hamstring, but, crucially, he hadn’t suffered a recurrence of the problem that sidelined him for almost a month.
Benitez will make a late decision on the involvement of Gayle. “He has been training and and we will see,” said Benitez, whose side trail Brighton by a point. “It’s a question of how he feels. He was fine (on Saturday).”
Benitez has backed goalkeeper Karl Darlow in the wake of the mix-up with left-back Paul Dummett which led to City’s second goal.
Darlow fumbled a back header from Dummett, and David Cotterill was able to put the visitors 2-0 up midway through the first half.
Newcastle, who had fallen behind to an Aaron Wilbraham header, claimed a point with a strong second-half response, thanks to an own goal from Korey Smith and an 82nd-minute header from Ciaran Clark.
The mistake from Darlow, under pressure from fit-again Rob Elliot, followed a miskick against Norwich earlier this month.
Benitez said: “He made a great save afterwards.
“The keeper has to deal with difficult balls, and in this case we made a mistake and it’s something we have to improve. It’s not very difficult to analyse this situation and correct it.”
Newcastle: Darlow, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Shelvey, Colback (Diame 58), Ritchie, Perez (Gouffran 79), Atsu, Mitrovic. Subs not used: Hanley, Anita, Elliot, Gamez, Murphy. Goals: Smith 59 og, Clark 82
Bristol City: Giefer, Vyner, Flint, Wright, Bryan (Magnusson 71), O’Neil, Cotterill (Hegeler 90), Smith (Pack 82), Reid, O’Dowda, Wilbraham. Subs not used: Fielding, Tomlin, Taylor, Paterson. Booked: Wilbraham. Goals: Wilbraham 11, Cotterill 21.
Ref: Chris Kavanagh (Lancashire).