By Will Butcher

Rafa Benitez has revealed that striker Daryl Murphy is close to a return to full fitness, but will not be available to face former side Ipswich.

The experienced target man has been suffering with a calf problem that has kept him out of training in recent weeks, following his £3million move from Ipswich.

Speaking to the Shields Gazette ahead of Saturday’s Championship clash, Benitez revealed that he will not risk Murphy with other options available.

“He (Murphy) is training now,” Benitez told the Shields Gazette. “But he is not playing because Dwight Gayle is still scoring goals and we have Aleksander Mitrovic waiting. He is not in the squad.

“Murphy played in the (EFL) Cup. After some time, Murphy felt tightness in his calf, and now we do not want to take any risks with him.”

The Ireland international is considered third-choice at St. James’ Park, with manager Benitez opting to use a system that incorporates only one centre forward.

Gayle is currently that man, after scoring hugely impressive 11 goals in 12 league and cup encounters following his £10million move from Premier League outfit Crystal Palace.

Former Anderlecht forward Mitrovic is also being made to wait, despite his impressive form for national side Serbia during the international break.

Murphy was recruited for his aerial ability and knowledge of England’s second tier, after scoring 10 goals and providing a further five strikes in assists during 35 league and cup encounters for Ipswich last season.

The former Celtic striker will be forced to watch from the stands as the Toon look to consolidate their position at the top of the Championship against his old side with three points.

In other Newcastle team news, Benitez has given this honest opinion on another fringe player.