Newcastle United v Leeds United: Benitez forced to box clever after losing leading marksman

Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez.
Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez.
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Newcastle United striker Dwight Gayle has been ruled out of tomorrow night’s game against Leeds United.

Leeds will face a Newcastle side minus their top scorer after Gayle was laid low by another hamstring strain suffered at Sheffield Wednesday last weekend.

Newcastle's leading scorer Dwight Gayle will miss the Good Friday game with Leeds United.

Newcastle's leading scorer Dwight Gayle will miss the Good Friday game with Leeds United.

Gayle’s absence is a boost for Leeds, denying Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez use of his 22-goal forward.

An unanswered brace from Gayle settled the previous meeting between the clubs at Elland Road in November but his campaign has been affected by fitness problems and Newcastle expected him to be absent until after the Easter weekend.

Benitez will also be without injured centre-back Ciaran Clark, a mainstay in his defence for much of the season.

“Dwight, we have to see how he improves,” Benitez said. “(Yesterday) he was running a little bit.

“Dwight isn’t very serious and Clark is very, very close. We don’t have a time (on Gayle’s comeback). It depends on how he progresses. He has been running a little bit.”

United head coach Garry Monk has only minor selection issues with captain Liam Bridcutt and winger Hadi Sacko returning to contention after minor injuries.

Benitez was in the opposition dug-out for one of Monk’s earliest games in management, a Europa League tie between Napoli and Swansea City in 2014, and the Spaniard paid tribute to Monk’s impact at Elland Road.

“Garry has done a great job,” Benitez said. “He is a good manager. I could see in the beginning that they were under pressure but he is a great manager. He is still young and he has great potential.”

St James Park will hold a crowd of 52,000 tomorrow, including an away contingent of 3,200.

Monk said: “I don’t think you can fully take over St James’ Park but I can pretty much guarantee that you’re going to hear out fans. It’s great for them. They deserve these type of games – meaningful games, which we’ve had all season.”