Mar 222016
Ashley has struggled to win over the Newcastle fans during his time in charge

Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has vowed to stand by the club, even if they are relegated from the Premier League.

The Magpies are currently second from bottom of the table, three points adrift of safety, with eight games remaining.

Asked if he would stick with the club in the event of relegation, Ashley said: “Yes, I think I’ve got no choice.

“I’m wedded to Newcastle. They have got me and I have got them, that’s just the way it is.”

Ashley, who bought the club in 2007, saw them relegated in 2009 but they returned to the top flight immediately, after winning the Championship title in 2010.

The Sports Direct owner’s time at St James’s Park has been filled with controversy but he backed investment in the squad, with more than £82m spent during the last two transfer windows, and replaced manager Steve McClaren with former Real Madrid boss Rafael Benitez earlier this month.

Ashley insists he has faith in Benitez after £14.5m signing Aleksandar Mitrovic struck late to earn a point in Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby against Sunderland.

“I think we have the right man in the job,” he said. “If there’s any chance of us staying up, let’s hope Rafa can do the business and keep us up there.”

However, while Ashley admitted he was disappointed they had not won on Sunday, he said was not too downhearted with the 1-1 result.

“It’s disappointing because I personally want to win every game for Newcastle United and it really doesn’t matter who they are playing,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a friendly, doesn’t matter what it is, but yesterday I wanted us to win, so I’m a little disappointed. But it’s not a disaster.”

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Mar 212016
Tom Heaton has been named in England squads before, but is yet to make his senior debut

Uncapped Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton has been called up to replace injured Joe Hart in the England squad for games against Germany and the Netherlands.

Hart and winger Raheem Sterling were taken off during Manchester City’s 1-0 derby defeat by United on Sunday.

Heaton, 29, will join the squad for the friendlies against Germany in Berlin on Saturday and the Dutch at Wembley on 29 March.

England boss Roy Hodgson will not be adding to his outfield players.

“Tom has been with us on several occasions and I am welcoming him back into the fold,” said Hodgson.

“Obviously it’s very disappointing for Joe and Raheem to suffer injuries which will rule them out of our games against Germany and Holland.

“They are important players in our squad and I wish them a speedy recovery.”

The Burnley captain joins fellow goalkeepers Jack Butland and Fraser Forster in the squad at St George’s Park, with England due to travel to Berlin on Friday.

England squad

Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke City), Fraser Forster (Southampton), Tom Heaton (Burnley).

Defenders: Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), John Stones (Everton), Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur).

Midfielders: Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur), Ross Barkley (Everton), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Danny Drinkwater (Leicester City), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), James Milner (Liverpool).

Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal).

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Mar 212016

Rafa Benitez is a great manager but he is not a magician, which is why it is going to be touch and go whether he can keep Newcastle up.

That is not a surprise because Benitez is managing the same players as his predecessor Steve McClaren, so they are going to have the same issues.

Newcastle lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation against Sunderland. Only bottom side Aston Villa have scored fewer goals and conceded more than the Magpies in the Premier League this season

The Spaniard took over on 11 March with the team in the Premier League relegation zone for two basic reasons – they concede too many goals, and they find scoring them very difficult.

Benitez’s task is to make Newcastle more solid, but also increase their creativity and goal threat.

At this stage of the season, with so few games left, it will be a big, tough job for him to turn all of that around.

‘My hope is Mitrovic’s goal will spur him on’

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Newcastle 1-1 Sunderland: We reacted very well – Benitez

Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby draw with Sunderland was a game between two poor teams – one of them looks almost certain to get relegated, and both of them could end up going down.

Newcastle deserved a point but, for the first hour, I did not think they played particularly well at all. They did improve, and started moving the ball around quicker, but they had to work hard just to get a 1-1 draw from a game they needed to win.

The most encouragement I took out of the game was about Magpies striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, and that the bit of confidence he will get from his goal might spur him on to get a few more before the end of the season.

I am not holding my breath, but that is what I am hoping for.

Sunderland are down at the bottom of the table too because they have their own problems, but one of the things they do have is a finisher.

After scoring their goal at St James’ Park, Jermain Defoe now has 12 Premier League goals this season. They have earned his side 11 points, or 42% of their total.

That is massive for a struggling side. I interviewed Jermain for The Sun last week