Newcastle Utd 2 Wigan Athletic: Benitez urges Mags to maintain 10-point gap on third place

Matt Ritchie heads home Newcastle's winner against Wigan
Matt Ritchie heads home Newcastle's winner against Wigan
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Rafa Benitez has told his Newcastle United players to mind the gap – and see off the challenge from promotion rivals Huddersfield Town.

The Championship leaders opened up a 10-point lead over David Wagner’s third-placed side after beating Wigan 2-1 at St James’s Park on Saturday.

And Benitez believes a home win over Burton Albion on Wednesday night would leave Huddersfield with a mountain to climb in the final few weeks of the campaign.

“I keep saying it’s a mini-league, and we have three points in this mini league,” said Benitez.

“Hopefully, we can carry on. We’ve started it well this month.

“We have to concentrate on the next game to get a result. It’ll be easier to talk about the gap if we can win the next game, but we concentrate on one game at a time. Ten points is good.”

Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie saw off lowly Wigan, netting either side of Michael Jacobs’ goal, while Huddersfield were condemned to a second successive defeat by a 96th-minute goal from Burton’s Jackson Irvine.

Second-placed Brighton, a point behind Newcastle, beat Blackburn 1-0.

Benitez questioned whether Huddersfield could handle the pressure of the run-in ahead of last month’s meeting at the John Smith’s Stadium.

“We’re talking all the time about what to do,” said Benitez. “You can see Brighton have problems. Huddersfield have problems to win easily.

“You can feel the pressure like everyone else. I said about Huddersfield feeling the pressure.”

Benitez says 22-goal Gayle’s return to form is coming at the right time, having fully recovered from the hamstring injury he suffered in January.

“He’s getting better with every training session,” said the Spaniard. “You need match fitness. He’s improving.

“The more he trains in the coming weeks, he’ll get even better.”

Isaac Hayden – who had ankle surgery in February – came off the bench late on and is in contention for a start at home to Burton.

Asked about Hayden’s timely return, Benitez said: “When you have all the players available, you can mange things easier if you see players tiring. We have another game soon, and it’s good to have fresh legs.”

Newcastle: Darlow, Anita, Lascelles, Hanley, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Colback, Gouffran (Hayden 70), Diame (Atsu 63), Gayle (Perez 80). Subs not used: Mbemba, Elliot, Gamez, Mitrovic. Booked: Diame. Goals: Gayle 36, Ritchie 57

Wigan: Gilks, Connolly, Buxton, Burn, Hanson, Power, MacDonald (Morgan 61), Warnock, Jacobs, Morsy (Gilbey 46), Bogle (Colclough 46). Subs not used: Perkins, Obertan, Haugaard, Byrne. Booked: Burn, Morsy. Goal: Jacobs 50.

Att: 51,849.Ref: David Coote (Nottinghamshire).