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29th Dec, 2016 | 3:08pm

Rafa Benitez delivers verdict on Newcastle future

By Matt Farr

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez insists the new year holds great promise for the Championship title favourites.

The Magpies head into 2017 in a strong position in the race for promotion back to the Premier League, and trail leaders Brighton by two points.

A disappointing defeat to Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day saw Newcastle relinquish their spot at the top of the table to their title rivals, but Benitez insists the club must not fret over the defeat, and focus on maintaining their push.

They face Nottingham Forest on Friday, where they will be out for revenge, having lost the previous encounter with Philippe Montanier’s side.

It was certainly an entertaining affair, with Forest coming from behind to beat nine-man Newcastle, who had Jonjo Shelvey and Paul Dummett sent-off – while Karl Darlow twice denied Forest from the penalty spot.

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A win at the weekend would see Newcastle put to an end a turbulent year following their relegation from the Premier League last season.

Speaking to the press ahead of the game, Benitez called for his side to be confident and to put things right ahead of the new year.

Benitez said, as quoted by the club’s official Twitter account: “We are not watching the table. We must concentrate on our games, there are still 23 to play. I have a lot of confidence in the team.

“Since I came here the fans have been fantastic. Hopefully they realise they can be a key part of our success. I see a bright future.”

Newcastle midfielder Vurnon Anita, meanwhile, mirrored Benitez’s comments, calling for his team-mates to end the year on a high-note.

The 27-year-old has been an important player under Benitez this season, and has made 20 appearances in all competitions.

He told the Chronicle ahead of the meeting with Forest: “We can’t lose the confidence or focus. We just keep working hard in training and keep going.

“Everybody wants to win here, and we need to be ready.”

The Magpies must win to maintain their stance in the division, as defeat could allow Brighton to go five points clear.

Reading, Leeds, Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday – who occupy the play-off places – are all in excellent form, and are chipping away at Newcastle’s six point cushion.

In other Newcastle news, the Magpies have turned their attention to this £10 million goal machine.