Rafa Benitez reveals why he has left Aleksandar Mitrovic OUT of his Newcastle squad
Aleksandar Mitrovic has been left out of Newcastle United's squad for tonight's game against Reading.
The striker didn’t travel with his team-mates for the weekend’s game against Huddersfield Town.
And Mitrovic is again in the cold for the club’s visit to the Madejski Stadium.
The 22-year-old has been squeezed out by the return of Dwight Gayle, who netted in United’s 3-1 win at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Daryl Murphy also scored against Huddersfield as Newcastle stretched their lead at the top of the Championship to five points.
Asked if Mitrovic would travel to Berkshire for the Reading game, United manager Benitez said: “No, because we have to decide about the number of players and the strikers.
“Murphy has done really well, and it’s a pity, because Mitrovic when he was playing, he was trying to do his best.
“But Murphy has done very well, and we don’t have too many places for strikers so we have to leave Mitro out.”
Gayle, back from a hamstring problem, has scored 21 goals this season.
The 26-year-old is a goal behind Championship leading scorer Chris Wood, and Benitez believes Gayle – who could be handed a start against Reading – is determined to finish the season as the division’s top gun.
“He has to be because it’s not easy to be top scorer in any division,” said Benitez. “When you have an opportunity, especially for a striker, it’s a very good target.
“I think he’s quite happy with the challenge and hopefully he can score more goals than him (Wood).”
Gayle was sidelined for almost a month with the hamstring problem he suffered in January’s win over Brentford at Griffin Park.
And he limped out of last month’s home game against Aston Villa fearing he had suffered a recurrence of the problem.
But tests showed that Gayle hadn’t suffered a tear, and Gayle came off the bench against Huddersfield.
Asked if he was mentally and physically ready to start a game, Benitez said: “Yes, I think he’s fine.
“I was saying he was training and physically he was getting better, but still he would need some time. But he’s fine.
“If I am asking him now (if he was ready to start), he would say ‘yes, I am ready to play’.
“Then we have to decide because we have to watch him every training session and monitor him carefully. But in his head, I’m sure that he’s ready.”