Jamaal Lascelles says Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle side is united – on and off the pitch.
The Magpies are top of the Championship ahead of tomorrow’s home game against Ipswich Town.
Lascelles led Newcastle to a 2-0 win over Barnsley at Oakwell on Tuesday night.
On the pitch, the Tynesiders are unrecognisable from the team which was relegated last season. Lascelles says the dressing room has also been transformed by Benitez, and his signings.
The players are spending more time with each other away from the club – and that is paying dividends on the pitch.
Asked if he had ever been involved in anything like this before, the 22-year-old said: “Nothing like this.
“Last season was a bit up and down. This season’s completely different.
“Rafa’s made some great signings, not just talented players but great lads. The dressing room is so important. It does go a long way.
“If you do things outside the dressing room, then you’re going to do it on the pitch.”
Lascelles has attempted to foster greater unity behind the scenes.
Benitez has a difficult task keeping his squad happy given that there are internationals, including striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, not playing regularly.
But the togetherness was evident at Oakwell when Gayle scored his second goal and Mitrovic, an unused sub, joined in the celebrations.
“That sort of attitude and mentality will tick us over,” he added.
“It’s not just the 11 boys on the pitch,” said Lascelles. “We’ve got a squad of 18, and we’ve got some players who’ve had to miss out.”
“The gaffer’s got a hard team to choose from. We’ve got a massive squad in terms of depth and talent.
“The ones on the bench are itching to get on. Credit to them, they’ve not spat their dummies out. They’re going to stick with us and congratulate us.
“That sort of attitude and mentality will tick us over. It’s exactly what we needed.”
The challenge for Newcastle is to maintain their charge over the coming weeks and months.
Lascelles said: “We’ve set a marker now. We need to hold this position, but, at the same time, we don’t want to get carried away. We’ve still got to take every game step by step.
“We’ll be preparing for the next game like we normally do.”
Newcastle have kept five clean sheets away from home this season.
And Lascelles believes the Magpies’ defending starts from the front.
Asked about the defensive record, he said: “As a centre-half, that’s my job – keeping clean sheets. Collectively, as a team, everyone’s playing their part.
“(Karl) Darlow was unbelievable (against Barnsley). He made some great catches and saves. The boys are working hard as a unit. We all know our roles.”
“Before the game, we knew it was going to be tough.
“Barnsley on a Tuesday night is not an easy place. The style of football they played is quite difficult. It was difficult break them down.
“In fairness to them, we didn’t really create much. Our talent and hard work came through at the end.”
Dwight Gayle scored both United’s goals to take his tally for the season to 11.
“It’s always nice when the strikers are banging them in like that,” said Lascelles.
“At the same time, he’s getting great deliveries from midfield – everyone’s playing a part.
“Dwight’s up there to do that and he’s doing his job. He’s got to keep his feet on the floor and keep working hard.”