DARYL MURPHY has urged his Newcastle United team-mates to draw a line under their Bank Holiday battering at Ipswich and focus on the five points that are required to guarantee promotion.
The Magpies turned in arguably their worst performance of the season as they crashed to a deserved 3-1 defeat at Portman Road, and for a couple of hours, it looked as though their promotion hopes were about to suffer a serious blow.
The mood changed when Derby claimed a late equaliser against Huddersfield though, and instead of heading into Monday’s home game with Preston in an increasingly vulnerable position, Rafael Benitez’s side could find themselves playing for promotion in five days’ time if Huddersfield and Reading both suffer weekend defeats.
Whatever happens elsewhere, Newcastle’s players know five points from their final three matches will guarantee a place in the Premier League, and for all that he was disappointed with his side’s efforts as he returned to his former home on Monday, Murphy insists it is important to accentuate the positives of the Magpies’ current position.
“It’s still in our hands,” said the striker, who briefly threatened to spark a second-half fightback when he scored Newcastle’s equaliser two days ago. “We know we just need to win the games and take maximum points.
“We know if we pick up maximum points, we’re there. We need to start doing it soon, but we’ve got a bit of time to get our heads right (before the Preston game) and be fully focused.
“In our previous game (against Leeds) we were brilliant, but we just weren’t good enough all over the pitch (against Ipswich).
“I don’t think there are any excuses – we need to be better than that. We’ve got three games left now, and we just need to make sure that we start picking up points.”
Benitez suggested his players were “not mentally ready” for the challenge of facing Ipswich on Monday, and claimed Brighton’s previous experience of challenging for promotion was the key reason why they have been able to cement their place in the top-flight in the last few weeks while Newcastle’s challenge has faltered.
The Spaniard now has five days in which to iron out the flaws that were apparent at Portman Road, and calm some of the nerves that have become increasingly evident in the last few games.
Having been watertight for the majority of the season, Newcastle’s defence suddenly looks extremely vulnerable, with Karl Darlow betraying signs of nervousness and Jamaal Lascelles struggling to strike a successful partnership with either Grant Hanley or Chancel Mbemba.
At the other end of the field, Newcastle are missing Dwight Gayle’s pace and mobility, but with the striker unlikely to feature in the final three games, Benitez will have to develop a better way of utilising the attacking strengths of either Murphy or Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Murphy was one of Newcastle’s better performers at Portman Road, but he readily accepts a marked improvement is required if the Magpies are not be reliant on other clubs’ failings to get them over the line.
“We all knew it was going to be a tough game,” he said. “I’ve always said if I ever had to play against Ipswich, it would be a hard game. They’re a physical and hard-working side with some good players in it.
“They made it difficult for us, but we were nowhere near what we can be and what we should be. We all know we’re better than that - we just didn’t perform.
“Whether that's a mental thing or not, I don’t know, but the first half was pretty poor and we’re obviously disappointed with not getting three points and the way we played.”
Murphy enjoyed two successful spells as an Ipswich player, and had decided long before kick-off that he would not celebrate if he scored.
His conversion of Christian Atsu’s cross took him to six goals for the season, but while he was grateful for the warm reception he was afforded by the Ipswich fans, he was not able to extract much satisfaction from the occasion as a whole.
“I knew before the game that if I scored, I wouldn’t celebrate,” he said. “I had some good times (as an Ipswich player). It was a bit of respect.
“The goal was for nothing, really. At the end of the day, we still lost. The mood afterwards was very down, everyone was very disappointed. We know we’re much better than that. There are some very good players in that dressing room.”
Having guaranteed their promotion by beating Wigan on Monday, Brighton will claim the Championship title if they beat Norwich City on Friday night.