Rafael Benitez was thrilled with Newcastle United’s second-half reaction as they drew 1-1 with Sunderland in the Tyne-Wear derby on Sunday.
Aleksandar Mitrovic headed in with seven minutes remaining to salvage a point at St James’ Park after Jermain Defoe’s first-half volley looked to have been enough to secure a seventh straight derby win for the visitors.
The draw leaves Newcastle sitting second-bottom, one point behind Sunderland and an additional two adrift of Norwich City in the race to avoid relegation to the Championship.
Benitez, though, is confident his new team can build on the goal from Mitrovic – which he felt was needed by all those associated with the club – over the last eight games.
“It was really important for everyone here, from the first fan to the last, people in the dressing room – everybody needed a goal like this and a reaction like that,” he said at his post-match media conference.
“I will try to build from there. We know the players a little bit better and we have to fight until the last game and the last minute.
“Obviously to get one point I am not very happy, but the way we got the point I am really happy with the reaction of the players and the fans.
“To keep the distance [to Sunderland] is important for us especially after the first half when we did not play at the level I was expecting.
“But the reaction was so good that still I am very positive and hopefully we can keep this momentum for the next games. How we played in the second half is how I want to see the team play in the future.”
Mitrovic’s goal was only his sixth in the Premier League this season, but Benitez thinks there will be more to come if he receives adequate service.
Benitez added: “I said before that he has the potential so we have to help him a little bit with better crosses and being closer to him. He will score goals if we can do that.”