EPL

Eddie Howe admits ‘disjointed’ Newcastle are going through challenging spell

By Sports Desk February 18, 2024

Eddie Howe has challenged his players to ride out the wave of chaos which has engulfed the club as Newcastle attempt to rediscover their best form.

The Magpies sailed serenely through last season as they gatecrashed the Premier League’s top four to secure a first Champions League adventure for two decades.

This time around, Howe’s expensively-assembled squad is riven by injury and suspension and the control they exerted for much of the last campaign has deserted them.

Speaking after Saturday’s 2-2 Premier League draw with Bournemouth, in which they trailed twice, Howe said: “I’m well aware and I think people who watch us regularly are aware, that we’re not at full power at the moment, we’re not at our fluent best but I think the reasons for that are obvious.

“We are a bit disjointed. We had players playing today who maybe wouldn’t be in their best positions given a free hand. But everyone is giving as much as they can to get consistent results.

“We have to look at the positives: it’s another game unbeaten for us; we’re getting points where we went through a spell when we weren’t.

“That was a big late goal for us. It just keeps that momentum. Of course we’re looking for three points in every home game, so we’re disappointed with certain aspects as well.”

Newcastle went into the game without a recognised striker after Callum Wilson joined Alexander Isak on the sidelines alongside key midfielders Joelinton and Sandro Tonali and first-choice goalkeeper Nick Pope.

The balance of the team has been affected significantly by those and other absences – they have scored 17 goals in their last seven league games but conceded 19, four of them against Luton in their last game at St James’ Park a fortnight ago when they had to come back from 4-2 down to claim a point.

This time around, they trailed to Dominic Solanke’s opener after he pounced upon a slip by keeper Martin Dubravka and then Antoine Semenyo’s sweet strike.

Anthony Gordon had cancelled out Solanke’s 16th goal of the season from the spot and substitute Matt Ritchie levelled at the death.

Howe said: “We never know when we’re beaten. At 2-1 today, it would have been easy to not respond – just as it would have been at 4-2 down against Luton. That’s down to the character of the players.”

Bournemouth boss Andoni Iraola left Tyneside proud of a creditable performance, but fuming at the outcome.

He said: “Today for me, it’s difficult to feel happy. I’m really happy with the performance. I think we deserved the three points.

“We came to a very difficult stadium with tough opposition and I think we did really well. We played very brave with high energy, we had the better chances, we were in front twice and to end with just one point, it’s not what we deserved today.”

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    Eddie Howe admits Newcastle could not afford to allow “gentle giant” Joelinton to leave on a free transfer after they finally persuaded him to sign a new contract.

    The 27-year-old Brazil international put pen to paper on a long-term deal on Thursday to end fears that he could leave the Magpies for nothing next summer despite becoming one of their most important players.

    Ultimately, the two parties managed to reach agreement over a man whose value on and off the pitch had increased substantially during his time on Tyneside, although head coach Howe knows the financial implications of doing so may impact on his summer business as the club attempts to comply with profit and sustainability limits.

    Howe said: “Of course something like this will have ramifications. You’re potentially lifting wages and that has an impact on your Financial Fair Play sheet.

    “But the alternative is that Joe leaves on a free transfer, which for a player of his quality, would be really bad business from us.

    “I think what has happened has alleviated that problem. But of course it maybe gives you problems elsewhere that you need to fix.”

    Whatever the financial fall-out from tying up Joelinton’s future, the football reasons for doing so are obvious.

    Under head coach Howe, a man who had been branded a flop following his then club record £40million switch from Hoffenheim as a striker during the summer of 2019, has established himself as a midfielder destroyer who played a key role in last season’s top-four Premier League finish.

    He is currently working his way back from thigh tendon surgery – he may or may not play again before the end of the current campaign – and his absence has been particularly telling.

    Securing the popular Brazilian at a time when interest in Bruno Guimaraes and Alexander Isak is mounting sends a message, Howe believes, that the club’s ambition remains intact.

    He said: “It helps with the perception of our ambition and that we’re still desperate to grow and improve. For me, to do that you have to try to keep your best players, you have to try to create something that everyone wants to be part of.”

    Howe thrust Joelinton into a midfield role after defender Ciaran Clark’s dismissal just nine minutes into a 1-1 draw with Norwich in his third game at the helm in November 2021, and he has not looked back since, building himself a reputation as a snarling enforcer, something far removed from his off-field character.

    Howe said: “For the size and stature that he is and how aggressive he is on the pitch, he is a soft, gentle giant off it.”

    Joelinton will be a frustrated bystander once again as the Magpies entertain Tottenham on Saturday hoping for a repeat of the corresponding fixture in April last year when they raced into a 5-0 lead after just 21 minutes before running out 6-1 winners.

    Asked if he had been able to relax during that game, Howe, who has doubts over Lewis Hall and Joe Willock, said with a smile: “Let me tell you, I didn’t feel like that, not even for a second. Not when you’ve got Harry Kane on the other team.

    “He then scores and you start looking at how long is left.”

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    Aston Villa boss Unai Emery knows his side have plenty of work to do in next week’s Europa Conference League quarter-final second leg in Lille.

    Villa will travel to France with a 2-1 advantage thanks to first-leg goals from Ollie Watkins and John McGinn gave the on-looking Prince of Wales something to cheer about.

    But Lille showed they are no pushovers and Bafode Diakite’s late header kept the tie alive after they had been repelled by an impressive performance from Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

    Villa must now go to northern France next week and finish the job if they are to make their first European semi-final since they won the European Cup in 1982.

    That will not be an easy task as the French football federation have postponed Lille’s Ligue 1 game this weekend to give them extra time to prepare and they have only been beaten once at home all season.

    Emery, who celebrated his 1,000th game as a manager, said: “Difficult match, we are ready to play another 90 minutes, we played the first 90 minutes, we didn’t control the game like we wanted and defensively we were doing more work than we prepared for because we wanted to control the game with our positioning.

    “With the respect we have got for them, they showed it.

    “The result is tight, but more or less it was a fine for both teams. Now another 90 minutes, enjoy playing in Europe, enjoy playing a quarter-final.

    “Be ready to play 90 minutes, even extra time, even a penalty shootout because now it is in this moment everything is difficult.”

    Lille boss Paulo Fonseca, who almost took over at Newcastle and Tottenham in the last few years, felt Watkins’ goal should have been disallowed for a foul by Morgan Rogers on Ismally.

    “I don’t understand what is going on, it was a foul on the first goal,” he said.

    “I understand it is difficult for the referee with VAR it is just incredible they miss these things. It’s not good what is going on in football, the referees must look at what is going on in the moment.

    “A lot of matches, it is not football, it is blocking like in basketball. The first goal was a clear foul, a clear block. Being physical is one thing, fouling is another.”

    However, after the way they created chances at Villa Park, Fonseca knows the tie is very much alive.

    “We created the opportunity to get a better result,” he added. “I’m satisfied with the courage of my players but at the end of the day, we’ve lost.

    “I know that it’s difficult match, they’ve got great players, a great coach and a lot of experience so they have certain advantages but I must continue to believe it’s possible.”

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