RAFAEL BENITEZ paid tribute to the character of his Newcastle United team for emerging with three points from an afternoon when it seemed they would come up short.

The Magpies have climbed up to sixth courtesy of Mikel Merino’s 86th minute header despite Crystal Palace seemingly pretty comfortable and looking likely to leave Tyneside with a goalless draw.

Newcastle have now collected 14 points from their opening nine matches back in the Premier League and this latest home win has lifted them above Arsenal and Liverpool.

Benitez said: “When you win a game you have to be really pleased. Without playing at the level we have in the past.

“To get three points the way we scored, good delivery, good determination from Merino, really important to show the character of the team. To the end we were trying to control, attack and push, “Could we play better? Maybe. They have confidence and pace and are good on the counter attack. It was important for us to keep them at the bottom of the table.”

Benitez was also full of praise for substitute Merino, who arrived in the penalty area to head in Matt Ritchie’s corner to secure the victory.

The Newcastle boss said: “We know when he was in Osasuna he was strong in corners. We knew about this option. It’s not the best thing he can do. He scored with Spain Under-21s with his feet but he's not bad in the air.”

And on Newcastle’s lofty position, Benitez said: "We are coming from the Championship, we didn’t sign too many players, you tell me after September 1 where we will be, I will tell you fine! Credit to our players, they are doing really well.”

He added: “I don’t think too much but we’re happy with the points we have. All the hard work in training sessions is paying dividends. It is a long race. We will enjoy a couple of days and then we will prepare for the next challenge.”