Former Aston Villa star and BT Sport pundit Dean Saunders has launched an attack on Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley for his lack of ambition and rubbished any suggestion he can take credit for this season’s successes.

The Magpies have climbed away from the relegation battle with some fine form at a crucial stage of the season, with Saturday’s 2-1 victory away at Leicester City pushing them into 10th place on 38 points.

Having seen just five new faces through the door over the summer transfer window and three loanees in January, manager Rafael Benitez has been dealing with much of the same squad he had in the Championship, and it is the Spaniard who gets Saunders’ full praise, the pundit tearing into the owner for getting “away with it”.

He told BT Sport Score (07/04, 14:30): “He’s got away with it.

“He’s got a brilliant manager there and if they finish 10th or 11th, it will be down to Rafa Benitez.

“He’s trying to sell the club and he’s not given Rafa Benitez the money to finish in the top half.

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“He’s not given him enough money to do it, so he’s resorted to his tactical knowledge where he sets his team up who are hard to beat and to counter attack – and it’s working.”

Newcastle’s next match sees them place host to Arsenal next Sunday.

Football Insider verdict

Pundits always seem reluctant to admit or ignorant to the situation that Newcastle fans have had to endure under Mike Ashley’s reign, so Saunders’ verdict will be a pleasant surprise. There can be few questions over whether the Sports Direct supremo has failed to back Benitez and the team adequately and all credit must be laid at the Spaniard’s door. What he has achieved with a squad who are primarily made up of players who scraped to the Championship title is nothing short of outstanding, and when safety is mathematically secured, there will be some massive celebrations. However, with Ashley at the helm, the future always looks bleak, so there will be hopes he is out the door sooner rather than later.

In other Newcastle United news, the club are hunting for the next Jamie Vardy.

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