Newcastle players cancel their own Christmas to focus on relegation scrap
Newcastle's players have cancelled their own Christmas party as they attempt to drag the club out of an alarming Premier League slump.
They were due to celebrate in London after Saturday's trip to Arsenal, where they will run out desperate to avoid an eighth league defeat in nine matches.
But where managers have been known to call a halt to festive celebrations - Sam Allardyce has done just that at Everton this year - the players themselves have decided to concentrate instead on the task of keeping the promoted club in the top flight.
Asked if he would celebrate Christmas with his staff, manager Rafael Benitez said: "Normally we will not do it, and the players have also decided to cancel their Christmas party because they have taken responsibility and they think it's important to focus on football.
"They have cancelled. They want to give a very clear message that they care and they want to do things right. On the pitch, you can win or not, but they realise that they have to be focused on doing things right.
"There was no pressure from me. I was asking four or five players about it and they were very clear: 'Oh no, we cannot' and that was it. They talked between themselves and decided.
"This group of players is working so hard, so I could not have said to them you do not deserve to do this or that - they are giving everything. But they have decided this and I think that's very positive.
"I have said to them maybe later on they could have dinner or whatever in the future when things are going well. I think it's a very good thing from them."
Newcastle sit 16th in the Premier League going into the weekend fixtures, one point above the drop zone.
Benitez this week held talks with managing director Lee Charnley over the club's January transfer plans with takeover talks ongoing, but is convinced his current crop is not far off clicking.
He said: "My message is very clear: it's a long race. If you go in a marathon, you know when they talk about the wall, which is 33km or something like that? You get to the wall and then you have to carry on."