By support

26th Dec, 2016 | 7:36am

Rafa Benitez delivers verdict on Newcastle first half of season

By Matt Farr

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez insists his side are not yet at their best this season.

Benitez and Newcastle endured a torrid start to the year, getting relegated from the Premier League, but the Magpies are favourites for promotion straight back this season, and have established a single point lead at the top of the Championship.

They have won 16 of their 22 games in the league this season, scoring 45 goals, and have lost just twice in their last 14 games in the competition.

However, while he is happy with what the club have achieved so far this season, Benitez believes there is still plenty of room for improvement.

He told the Newcastle Chronicle: “I’m really pleased: in terms of a mark, I think we have plenty of room for improvement. We are far away from 10 but not below 5. Go for a number between them.

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“We are working and thinking about the present and the future. We can’t forget the present. Our future depends on the way we play the game, the way we train, the environment, the way we manage everything. We try to do everything in a football way.

“You can have everything in place: but if you lose games it means nothing.”

Benitez also called for positive momentum heading into the new year, as his side have four games in just 13 days.

Newcastle face promotion rivals Sheffield Wednesday at St. James’ Park on Boxing Day, before hosting Nottingham Forest on December 30. Trips to Blackburn (January 2) and Birmingham (January 7) follow in quick succession.

The Magpies must be wary of title rivals Brighton, who have so far kept the pace with the league leaders, and are just a point behind. Chris Hughton’s side have lost just twice in the league, and will be waiting for Benitez’s Newcastle to slip up.

In terms of head-to-heads though, Newcastle have the advantage, beating their rivals 2-0 back in August. They next play at the Amex Stadium at the end of January in a huge clash at the top of the table.

In other Newcastle news, Benitez has issued an update on the club’s January transfer window plans.