AYOZE PEREZ claims Newcastle United are ‘on track’ for a successful season after heading into the international break in the top half of the Premier League table.

Rafael Benitez’s side sit in ninth position in the wake of Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool, having picked up ten points from their opening seven games.

Such a tally looked unlikely when they lost their opening two matches of the season, but they have avoided defeat in four of their subsequent five outings, picking up three wins and a draw in the process.

They boast the highest position of the three newly-promoted teams, even though they have already come up against Tottenham and Liverpool, and have successfully dispelled much of the doom and gloom that swept across Tyneside in the closing few days of the transfer window.

“We are on ten points now, and to be honest, I think that is a good number,” said Perez, who has started all of Newcastle’s league games this term. “It could have been even better, but it is a good start.

“I think if we had been offered this position at the start of the season, we would have taken it. We have to keep growing and improving, but we have shown that we are comfortable at this level.

“We have had a few different tests, but we showed against Liverpool that we can handle ourselves against a top side. Most people were probably expecting us to lose that game, but we gave everything to make sure we didn’t, and that is important.”

Newcastle’s collective desire and work rate were key factors in Sunday’s result, with Perez and his team-mates running themselves into the ground as they closed down a Liverpool side boasting an array of attacking talent.

Some previous Newcastle teams might have boasted more natural ability that the current squad, but there have not been many with a stronger work ethic or shared sense of commitment.

There has been an honesty and integrity to the Magpies’ performances this season, and those traits stem straight from Benitez, who preaches organisation and unselfishness at every turn.

Jamaal Lascelles’ on-field leadership has also been a key factor in Newcastle’s industrious approach, with Perez’s attitude epitomising his team-mates’ mind-set.

The Spaniard was something of an attacking free spirit when he first moved to Tyneside from Tenerife, but while he barely threatened the Liverpool goal on Sunday, he was still a valuable presence as he closed down relentlessly and prevented his opponents from being able to build from the back.

“We showed a good side to our character,” said Perez. “We knew we were probably going to suffer in some minutes, because they move the ball and move around really well. They have pace on the wings, so it was hard.

“Sometimes, we realised we had to be deep and wait for a chance to counter-attack, but we stuck to the game plan and fortunately it worked. It was a different kind of test, but we showed we could handle it.

“We knew we were probably not going to be able to be as good as we would like to be on the ball. We had to adapt to that, and change our style of football to try to overcome Liverpool’s strengths. We tried to play on the counter-attack, and take advantage of the spaces in behind. There were times when we did that better than others, but it was still a good point for us.”

The point came courtesy of Joselu’s first-half equaliser, and while the striker did not know too much about his second goal of the season, with the ball deflecting into the net off his shin after Joel Matip made a tackle in the box, Perez claims his fellow forward earned his good fortune.

Joselu missed a succession of chances in recent games against Stoke and Brighton, but his head did not drop and he made a superb run behind the Liverpool defence to reach Jonjo Shelvey’s through ball at the weekend.

“He (Joselu) deserved that,” said Perez. “There have been a couple of weeks where he has been a bit upset because of the chances he had, but he scored (against Liverpool) and hopefully that will start a run where he scores a lot of goals for us.

“He is getting chances, and that is the most important thing for a striker. Sometimes you score, sometimes you might miss, but you don’t worry too much as long as the chances continue to come along.

“The most important thing is that we are creating those chances – that means we are doing something well as a team. We just have to keep working in the same way, and with the same mentality.”

Meanwhile, Magpies midfielder Matt Ritchie has withdrawn from Scotland’s squad for their forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Slovakia and Slovenia.

Ritchie, who underwent a groin operation in the summer, played the full 90 minutes of Sunday’s game, but has pulled out of international duty as a precaution after picking up a minor knock.