MX23RW : Monday, October 22 02:03:48

Lowly Newcastle seeking stability on and off the pitch

Owner Mike Ashley watched a game at St James’ Park for the first time since May 2017.

Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez will return to work on Monday morning with the club in a state of flux on and off the field.

Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat by Leicester left the Magpies still awaiting their first victory of the season after a return of just two points from the first 21 on offer.

The game was played against the backdrop of fresh takeover talk after it emerged that former Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon is attempting to put funding in place to buy out current owner Mike Ashley, who was at St James’ Park for a game for the first time since May 2017.

Press Association Sport understands preliminary contact between the two parties has been brief and gone little further than an enquiry as to whether the club remains up for sale – it does – and what kind of money it may take to acquire control.

It is understood Kenyon was not given a price but invited to make an offer once his financial backers are in place.

Ashley put the club on the market in October last year and a series of potential buyers have registered an interest – most notably Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners – although none have come close to making an offer the Sports Direct magnate has considered worthy of his consideration.

The Staveley bid was tendered amid a blaze of publicity, much to Ashley’s annoyance, and it is understood both he and Kenyon are unhappy that news of the latest approach has leaked out.

Benitez has spent much of his time at St James’ Park bemoaning his lack of spending power with Ashley insisting he cannot afford to take the club to the next level.

The need for reinforcement was demonstrated graphically against Leicester, when the absence of the proven striker, number 10 and left-back the manager has craved since winning promotion back to the Premier League was painfully evident.

Perhaps more worryingly, players who scrapped admirably to secure a top-10 finish last season look to have been cowed by their manager’s repeated admissions that his team are not as strong as they need to be, as well as his conservatism.

Jamie Vardy’s first-half penalty and a Harry Maguire header 17 minutes from time secured the points for the Foxes and left Benitez banking on a kinder run of fixtures over the next couple of months.

He said: “I said to my players that next month and December will be crucial if you see the teams that we have and the teams that we will play against.

“The only thing is that we have to be mentally ready and we have to keep going, keep working hard, because we cannot forget that we have played against some of the top sides in the league and against good teams.”

If Benitez’s mood was sombre, opposite number Claude Puel headed back to the midlands content with his afternoon on Tyneside.

Puel said: “We deserved to win this game. We did not always have all the control because all the game cannot be perfect, but I am happy with our performance, of course.”

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