Newcastle v Aston Villa: Mags midfielder Jack Colback eager to get clear of the chasing pack

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Newcastle midfielder Jack Colback is growing increasingly irritated at the refusal of the chasing pack in the race for promotion to the Premier League to go away.

The Magpies and Brighton have set the pace at the top of the table for several months now.

But, having established a significant gap between themselves and the rest, they have been unable to break away, with Huddersfield, Reading, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday still hot on their heels.

Colback, who will hope to retain his place in the starting line-up for tonight’s home clash with Aston Villa (8pm), said with a smile: “It’s getting irritating now, actually.

“Of course you have a look at the other results. They are a part of the competition, you’re going to have a look after games.We obviously focus on ourselves first.

“We know that we’ve put ourselves in a position where if we keep winning games or stay unbeaten and are consistent, then we’ll go up so we will focus on that first and foremost.”

Newcastle head into the Villa game sitting in second and five points ahead of third-placed Huddersfield, and while there is still much work to be done, Colback and his team-mates know that the situation is still very much in their hands.

The former Sunderland midfielder said: “The gap obviously was a bit more healthy, they have closed the gap - credit to them because they keep wining games.

“But we’ve got to play everyone around us. Again it shows it’s in our own hands.”

Manager Rafael Benitez will be boosted for the run-in by the return of 20-goal striker Dwight Gayle, who played his first football since January 14 as a sub in Tuesday night’s 2-2 draw at Norwich.

Benitez said: “We were winning without him and that was important. But were we missing a clinical finisher? Yes. Were we missing a player with pace and good movement? Yes.

“The others were doing a good job – [Daryl] Murphy and [Aleksandar] Mitrovic have been great – but he is a different kind of striker who gives you the opportunity to change things in the games.”

Newcastle have scored more goals than any other team in the Championship, and also has the best defensive record in English football’s second tier, but Benitez sees room for improvement all over the pitch.

“You have to coach the players every day, but overall, we have scored more goals than anyone and we have conceded fewer goals than anyone,” said Benitez.

“That doesn’t mean we are perfect, but we are a little bit better than the others.

“We have to improve more, but overall I am happy with the way we are doing things.”