By Russell Edge

2nd Dec, 2017 | 5:54pm

Benitez reveals surprise reason behind snub of firm Newcastle fans' favourite

Newcastle United boss Rafael Benitez has said that Aleksandar Mitrovic has been snubbed from the first team this season due to a lack of quality throughout the rest of the side.

The Serbian striker, a fan’s favourite at St James’ Park for his energy and passion, has not started a single league game for the Magpies, with summer signing Joselu and more recently Dwight Gayle preferred by the Spanish boss.

It means he has been limited to just a handful of substitute appearances, despite the Magpies having scored just 14 goals this season, Gayle and Joselu both having netted twice, the same amount that centre backs Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark have this campaign.

Now Benitez has offered a reasoning behind his absence from the team, insisting that Mitrovic’s striking compatriots offer more to a counter-attacking style of football, which he surprisingly says he has to employ due to the lack of quality running through the rest of the team.

He told the Chronicle: “The debate about who should play? Well, you then go back to – ‘we have who we have’.”

“If we want our striker – it doesn’t matter what his name is – scoring lots of goals, we have to control our games.

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“We don’t have that type of team. We don’t have the possession or control and we have to play counter-attack.

“If we don’t have the pace in the team we can’t be in there. Dwight has pace and the others are big and win balls in the air. It makes a big difference.”

Mitrovic has made a total of 71 appearances for the club since arriving from Anderlecht in 2015, netting 71 times and chipping in with 10 assists.

Of those outings, only six have come this season, with five coming from the substitutes’ bench in the Premier League.

In other Newcastle United news, Benitez has pointed the finger of blame after the club’s defeat to Chelsea.

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