Ashley must back Rafa over Shawcross deal

Stoke defender to Shaw up Toon’s back-line?

With Newcastle United set for a swift Premier League return, owner Mike Ashley must learn from his mistakes.

He targeted young, overseas players with a high potential sell-on value, but the result was a team lacking experience and character, culminating in relegation. Rafa Benitez, among the highest-profile managers in Europe, will not tolerate the same mistakes. The Spaniard has won the fans over from the off and, for political reasons as well as footballing ones, Ashley must back him early this summer.

One of Benitez’s major targets is Ryan Shawcross, whose Stoke City contract runs out next year. The bookies have installed St James Park as the 5/4 favourite next destination for the Manchester United academy graduate.

Ciaran Clark has been Newcastle’s best defender this term, but has missed the last month due to a knee injury. Jamaal Lascelles and Chancel Mbemba have made some questionable decisions lately while Grant Hanley has aerial prowess but is out of favour. It is likely that at least one of the aforementioned trio will be sold this summer to make way for Shawcross, a player with more knowhow and leadership.

If and when promotion is secured, the club can ill-afford to rest on its laurels.