Mikel Merino says his back is still bothering him and he still isn’t 100% fit BUT he is now back and ready ‘to help the team’.

The Spaniard could do nothing to prevent yet another collapse around half-time, as within 11 minutes weaknesses elsewhere in the team allowed West Brom to take a two goal lead in a match which had seen neither keeper with a real save to make in the opening half.

Mikel Merino believes that weaker teams would have crumbled and have been doomed to a fifth defeat in a row – but he says ‘we are fighters and we did not think like that’.

Much as the team deserved criticism for going two behind to a team that hadn’t won a game in over three months, Newcastle also deserve a lot of credit for the fightback that almost brought a win, never mind a point.

Merino might not have been at his best but he certainly made a difference with his composure in midfield, hopefully he will that little bit fitter/stronger and able to be a key figure on Saturday at Stamford Bridge.

It was over eight weeks since he had started a game five weeks since his last involvement, scoring the winner against Palace as a late sub.

No coincidence that all 15 points this season have been picked up in games where Mikel Merino has been involved, looks like he is back at exactly the right time, with this festive period crammed with crucial games.

Anything from the Chelsea game will be a bonus and with the 21 year old on the pitch, Newcastle have far more chance of getting decent control in the crucial centre of midfield, as Merino says: ‘We know what we have to do’.

Mikel Merino:

“My fitness is improving and I am not at 100% yet – but I am here to help the team.

“It doesn’t matter if I am a little bit injured or 100% good, I will still give everything I can on the pitch.

“Sometimes, things do not go as you would want, but the important thing is that I feel better every time I play. I can feel my fitness coming back.

“I am not at 100% yet, either with my back or physically with my fitness, but I am improving and I am happy with that.

“It was a great point for us (at West Brom), the way we started the match is not the way we want to do things and when you go 2-0 behind, it’s always hard to make a comeback.

“This team never gives up though and I think we did a great job in the second half.

“We have to take care that we do not continue conceding last minute goals at the end of the first half but we have to keep going and keep fighting.

“We knew this league would be difficult. and we always knew we would win and lose games, but at the end we got a draw that was good for us.

“It was very important to put an end to the run of defeats, and I think another team with four straight losses might have put their heads down when they 2-0 behind, but we are fighters and we did not think like that.

“We knew we had to fight for every ball and we did that, so we came away with a lot of pride.

“It is always a big confidence boost when you come back to get a result like that.

“We know it will be a really hard game at the weekend and we will have to do a lot of working and a lot of running, but we will be going there with a positive result behind us, looking to play positive football.

“We might have to make a few adjustments in defence because we are letting in too many goals but we showed some good signs to come back (against West Brom) and we know what we have to do.”