By Russell Edge

Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez has told striker Aleksandar Mitrovic to “play to his strengths” in order to keep a starting position in his XI.

The Magpies host Preston on Monday night knowing that victory will secure automatic promotion to the Premier League, and the Serbian striker is expected to be recalled to the starting XI.

However, Mitrovic has struggled to hold down a berth in the first team this season due to a culmination of injuries, suspension and other players’ form.

Indeed, Mitrovic and fellow forward Daryl Murphy have had to play second fiddle to summer signing Dwight Gayle, who is Newcastle’s top scorer with 22 goals in the Championship this season.

Benitez was quick to admit that it was the form of the English striker which prevented both the Serbian and Irish forwards from getting more game time.

He said to the Chronicle: “The problem for Mitrovic and Murphy has been Gayle.

“When you play with one striker, the competition is not easy.

“After, when Mitrovic had a chance, he got injured, so then Murphy did well.”

However, with Gayle out through injury, Mitrovic and Murphy have been battling it out for the solitary starting role, and manager Benitez has urged the 22-year-old to keep working hard and playing to his advantages in order to make the position his own.

He told the Chronicle: “Mitrovic is someone who likes to work. He likes to do more finishing.

“He has to play to his strengths and hopefully we can use him and he can score goals.”

The Serbian has scored six goals in all competitions for the Magpies, four of those coming against Monday’s opponents Preston North End.

However, Benitez asserted that the Serbian’s apparent prowess against the Lancashire-based side was not playing a role in his team selection.

In other Newcastle news, the Magpies have been made favourites to sign a 25-goal hot shot.

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