INTO the fourth round of the FA Cup, sitting 13th in the Premier League after only celebrating promotion last May and enjoying a decent run of form. If only life at Newcastle United was as simple as that sounds.

Regardless of the problems behind-the-scenes in terms of recruitment and the battle for control at St James’ Park, there have been signs of progress in the last few weeks on the field and Rafael Benitez has delivered some positive results – without new arrivals.

The need for reinforcements is strong; Benitez, his players, the club’s supporters and managing director Lee Charnley all know that. The man with the cash, Mike Ashley, is still to inform the manager how much money, if any, is available for new players.

And that is where the selection conundrum comes in for Benitez. Attacking the FA Cup is something Benitez would love to do, but he remains guarded in suggesting that in case he has to rest key players in later rounds to prepare for the final stages of a relegation fight.

There was nothing wrong with the team he sent out against Luton Town in the third round. Only 20-year-old debutant Freddie Woodman could not be regarded as a first team player.

It showed as Newcastle scored three goals inside nine crucial first half minutes to book a place in the last-32 – even if Luton did stage a spirited second half after pulling one back after the restart.

Even though it was against League Two opposition, the victory was the third in five matches and the only defeat during that run was a narrow 1-0 loss to league leaders Manchester City.

Ahead of Swansea’s visit to Tyneside on Saturday, momentum was the watch word among the Newcastle staff – particularly because it was the first home win since October.

“It’s what I wanted, the team to have the habit of winning,” said Benitez. “We did well against Stoke (on New Year’s Day) and I wanted to make sure the team was strong enough to win this game and gain confidence. Hopefully we can do the same against Swansea.

“Always to win at home is a very good feeling. We had to be sure to win this one, two games in a row winning, so very positive.”

Benitez is still looking to recruit new players this month - and is interested in Paris St Germain goalkeeper Kevin Trapp - but is frustrated by how long it is taking to get the go-ahead to spend from Ashley, who he last spoke with before Christmas.

He wants his squad finalised by January 20 and time is running out for that wish to be granted, and a failure to bring in the calibre and required number of players he wants could have a negative impact on the FA Cup run.

The priority is staying in the top-flight, so the Newcastle boss wants to ensure his squad continues to climb away from the relegation zone – they are only two points clear – to enable him to field strong teams in the FA Cup.

He said: “That is the key, obviously. If you have a strong squad and you have a good position in the table, then you can approach it a different way. But when you have to keep an eye on everything, it’s important to make decisions.

“Maybe one week before the cup tie, you’ll have an idea, but at the moment it’s just about enjoying it.

“Reaching the later stages of the FA Cup is the ideal situation, get to a comfortable position in the league and then decide how to approach the FA Cup. At the moment, the position in the league is so close, we have to win some games and make sure we are fine.”

Seeing Perez find the net again will certainly strengthen Newcastle’s chances. He scored for the second game in a row and it was his first double since October 2016.

Both were the result of his quick reactions. He was on the spot first to convert loose balls in the 30th and 36th minutes after Marek Stech had been unable to hold onto Dwight Gayle efforts; the first a free-kick and the second a strong downward header.

Benitez said: “He will be delighted, because scoring in the league and scoring here in a good game – in the first half we did some good things – he will be really pleased. It’s always positive for strikers to score and gain some confidence.”

Perez’s goals were soon followed by Shelvey’s first of the season three minutes later. Gayle was again involved, rolling a pass into the path of the midfielder to side-foot a low finish inside the bottom left corner.

The scoreline flattered Newcastle. Before those Luton caused occasional problems themselves and then their 7,000 travelling supporters got to enjoy the second half even more.

Once the impressive Hylton – who also had a fine goal harshly ruled out for offside – had capitalised on a backward header from Matt Ritchie by rounding the onrushing Woodman three minutes after the restart, Luton sensed it was game on.

The son of former Newcastle midfielder Rob Lee, Elliot, emerged from the bench to curl a brilliant free-kick against the bar, while he also went close with the last kick of the game. Newcastle also had chances themselves during the final stages but the Benitez’s side had already done enough.

Even though Woodman, who won the Under-20s World Cup with England in the summer, could have done better for the Luton goal, he could be encouraged to have started life in the first team picture with a victory.

“I think Freddie did well overall. He started a little bit nervous with his feet, but after that he was fine,” said Benitez. “We didn’t help him much in the first half because we were a little bit too open and a bit too exposed.

“But overall, good, and it is a positive he has had this experience. He is a good keeper and he made good saves but I don’t like to see my keepers make too many saves, I would prefer not to see them at all.

“He needs to enjoy this moment because we have won and he was part of it. After that we will decide what is best for him and the club (whether he goes on loan). We have to manage both of those things.”

Woodman, watched by his father and former Newcastle coach Andy, made a few saves to help prevent Newcastle from slipping to a sixth defeat against lower league opposition from their last seven FA Cup ties.

“One time I remember watching the FA Cup when my dad played for Oxford against Arsenal, that’s when my love for the Cup started,” said Woodman. “I watched him at Highbury play, and then from then on I kept going to every Cup final, with my first one at Wembley, and then I went to the Millennium Stadium, everywhere to follow it.

“The two years before it started at Wembley I went, then I kept going at Wembley until after my first year here - when I couldn’t really keep going and supporting other clubs while I was at Newcastle United.

“It’s huge, I remember when my dad played in the third round against Arsenal, he came home and I was in David Seaman’s shirt and his gloves, and it was like the best thing ever. I couldn’t understand why my dad was out there playing against Dennis Bergkamp and people like that.

“I couldn’t understand it, but when I got older I realised what the FA Cup was about, and it’s something that is so close to my heart. I’m just so buzzing to play in it.” And to have now won in it too.