Successive wins may have restored a happy mood around St James’s Park but Rafael Benitez has warned his Newcastle side have much further to go before they can raise their sights above a relegation fight.
What threatened to evolve into another dismal season for the Magpies took a distinctly upbeat turn with successive wins over Watford and Bournemouth lifting Benitez’s men up to 14th place.
But a setback on Monday at Burnley – who go into the game level on points but beneath the visitors on goal difference – could dump Benitez’s men right back in the thick of the relegation fight.
Benitez said: “We started walking and now we are running, but we still have to improve our pace and go faster. We have got to keep winning because two games is not enough.
“Confidence is much better at the moment. I was praising the players because they were training well and not winning, but as soon as you start winning games you can see that things are much more positive.”
The international break may have fallen at a bad time for Benitez, not only because of the prospect of losing momentum but also because defender Paul Dummett was injured during Wales’ Nations League clash with Denmark.
Dummett has been ruled out of the trip to Turf Moor and faces further tests to establish the extent of his injury, but otherwise Benitez can look ahead to a period in which his other injury issues are likely to ease.
Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey are pushing to return from shoulder and calf problems respectively while Yoshinori Muto will also face a late fitness test ahead of the trip to Turf Moor.
There has also been welcome news regarding French defender Florian Lejeune, who has made faster than expected progress with a knee problem and has been training this week at the club’s Benton base.
The Magpies’ trip to Burnley kicks off a series of eminently winnable pre-Christmas fixtures with games against West Ham, Everton, Wolves, Huddersfield and Fulham all to come.
But Benitez believes the uniquely top-heavy nature of this season’s table – with Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea all cantering towards Christmas with unbeaten records – has made it tougher than ever to avoid slipping back into a rut.
“This league is quite special because you have three teams in November who still haven’t lost any games,” added Benitez.
“There is a big difference between those teams and the others so you can have a bad run and then you lose confidence, and it can get worse for every game.”