Eddie Howe says Newcastle can still make difficult season ‘very special’

By Sports Desk February 26, 2024

Eddie Howe is confident Newcastle’s topsy-turvy season can still end on a high note as he targets FA Cup glory.

The Magpies slipped to ninth place in the Premier League table after a dismal 4-1 defeat at Arsenal on Saturday evening, and have looked some way off the pace they set last season, when they roared to a top-four finish.

But as they head into Tuesday night’s FA Cup fifth-round trip to Sky Bet Championship Blackburn, head coach Howe is convinced a campaign which has featured a famous Champions League victory over Paris St Germain, but also an untimely exit from Europe, could still have a happy ending.

He said: “We are still in the throes of deciding where this season ends up. Nothing is decided for or against us.

“I definitely want to squash that feeling that we are feeling sorry for ourselves because that has negative connotations. We need the players excited and ambitious, thinking brightly about the future.

“This season can still be very special for us, but we have to make it happen.”

Howe has been able to plead mitigating circumstances for much of what has happened so far this season with injuries having eaten significantly into his resources, but he was making no excuses for the horror show at the Emirates Stadium.

Instead, he refocused on progression in the FA Cup and the task of securing a European berth for the second successive season, even if the Europa League or Europa Conference League now look more realistic options.

He said: “Of course, qualifying for the Champions League was unbelievable last year. But if you can’t make that again, then we have to look for the next best alternative.

“That’s what we’re trying to do, and for me, they’re (the Europa League and Conference League) realistic objectives and we’ll give everything we can to achieve it.”

It is perhaps no coincidence that the Magpies’ difficulties have intensified since the loss of powerhouse midfielder Joelinton. He suffered a thigh tendon injury in the FA Cup third-round victory at Sunderland which is likely to sideline him for much of the remainder of the campaign.

Howe said: “We’ve missed Joe’s qualities, especially physically, his robustness, his abilities in duels, set-plays for and against.

“We’re very lucky to have a midfielder that’s as big as he is and as competitive as he is and whenever you lose those qualities, you notice when they’re not there.

“He’s a very unusual midfielder, really, a prototype. You don’t get many like him and it’s certainly been missed, what he can bring.”

The 27-year-old Brazilian has played a key role in the club’s resurgence since emerging from a miserable start to his career on Tyneside, and his future remains uncertain with a contract wrangle – his current deal expires next year – unresolved.

Howe said: “That’s always been in my mind as an absolute priority, to try to get him to stay at the club long-term. I see that as hugely important.”

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  • Neil Dewsnip ‘absolutely delighted’ as Plymouth defeat leaders Leicester Neil Dewsnip ‘absolutely delighted’ as Plymouth defeat leaders Leicester

    Plymouth director of football Neil Dewsnip was “absolutely delighted” with his side’s shock 1-0 Championship victory at home to leaders Leicester that eased their relegation worries.

    Recalled Mustapha Bundu scored a 21st-minute winner with an angled strike after running onto a defence-splitting ball from Adam Forshaw.

    Home goalkeeper Michael Cooper made a string of stops as Leicester piled on the pressure but the hosts held on for maximum points as they moved to 16th and now sit five points clear of the bottom three.

    Dewsnip said: “We are absolutely delighted with the result. Made up but we know it’s not done yet. We still have a target and that is to stay in this league.

    “Our aim is to stay in the league. It’s been the same since day one when we started in the Championship. It’s been a great night for Plymouth Argyle Football Club.

    “We still have three more games to play and more points to play for. The players stuck to the shape we wanted and I am delighted we stuck to the game plan.

    “Mustapha’s goal was absolutely terrific. He’s got that finish in him we see every week in training. It does fly over the railings one or two times but credit to him that was a really good goal.

    “The fans from the first minute to the last were just at it. I found myself clapping with them at one point.

    “I am absolutely delighted the team recorded a 1-0 win for them.

    “We have not had a great record defending set -pieces, so we worked on it and got an unbelievable response.

    “Thankfully tonight was our night not theirs. I am sure Leicester will have theirs in the future.

    “Tomorrow I think I will be watching the scores come in, especially as 24 hours ago we weren’t sitting here with these three points.”

    Leicester boss Enzo Maresca took the positives from their second-consecutive loss as they remain level on points with second-placed Ipswich, with Leeds a point further back ahead of their games on Saturday.

    He said: “It has been a tough week with two defeats in a row that we did not expect so we are upset.

    “The only good thing is that fortunately, it is still in our hands.

    “We need to take our chances and start to win games. We have four games to go, three of them at home, with our fans behind us, so hopefully we can finish well.

    “At the end – and I have said it many times – the problem is when you don’t create chances. That is when you have to be worried and find a different solution.

    “At this moment we are struggling to score. We created chances inside the six-yard box, from outside the box and we struggle.

    “But there are moments over the season where we need to win the game and it doesn’t matter which way we need to win the game.

    “But as I said, the positive thing is it’s still in our hands in the last four games. Now we cannot lose any more chances we have to try and win those (four) games.

    “At this moment we need all our players. For sure, when you don’t win games there is always a why?

    “I don’t see a big difference between tonight’s game and when we started the season.

    “When we lose you are always looking for the reason. The team are still competing and are still creating chances.

    “I don’t know if we need all the four games to win the league but we will still go out to win those four games.

    “With one chance they (Plymouth) were clinical and we had more chances and were not clinical.”

  • Championship leaders Leicester stunned by Mustapha Bundu’s winner for Plymouth Championship leaders Leicester stunned by Mustapha Bundu’s winner for Plymouth

    Leaders Leicester missed the chance to move clear at the top of the Championship as they suffered a shock 1-0 defeat away to relegation-threatened Plymouth, thanks to Mustapha Bundu’s 21st-minute winner.

    Second-placed Ipswich remain level on points with the Foxes, with Leeds a point further back ahead of their games on Saturday with all three clubs currently having four matches left.

    Managerless Argyle climbed to 16th on the back of their first home win in seven, under the caretaker management team of director of football Neil Dewsnip and first-team coach Kevin Nancekivell and now sit five points clear of the bottom three.

    It only took five minutes for Leicester to test home goalkeeper Michael Cooper as Abdul Fatawu’s thumping right-footed shot – following a flowing move – forcing him into a diving save low down to his left.

    Ricardo Pereira was next to test Cooper, following a defence-splitting one-two with Wilfred Ndidi. Again it was all diving Cooper could do to parry the ball away.

    Stephy Mavididi latched on to the aerial ball and headed it back across the goal, which resulted in a goalmouth scramble and Argyle eventually clearing the ball.

    Mavididi went close with a curling 13th-minute shot after being teed up by playmaker Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall on the edge of the box. The attacking midfielder’s shot beat Cooper for pace but flew just past the post.

    Totally against the run of play, Plymouth stunned their visitors with a 21st-minute goal on the counter.

    Adam Forshaw intercepted a Leicester attack and released recalled striker Bundu with a superb, measured pass through the middle of the park.

    Bundu sprinted forward and – as he got into the penalty box – let fly with a fierce angled drive from the right that beat diving Mads Hermansen and rocketed into the far corner.

    Harry Winks fired wide from 20 yards as Argyle failed to clear their lines following another City corner with the half-hour mark approaching.

    Argyle’s next best chance fell to Bundu, after good work by Forshaw and substitute Joe Edwards, but this time the striker fired high over.

    Cooper did well to save low at his near post as Dewsbury-Hall fired across the face of goal in the 44th minute from close range.

    Cooper was again called into action early in the second half as he made another save, while Dewsbury-Hall tried his luck from 25 yards moments later.

    Central defender Dan Scarr did well to stoop and head a pacy Fatawu cross from the right away at the near post as Leicester continued to press or an equaliser.

    Fatawu’s next cross from the right – after 56 minutes – found striker Patson Daka and his deft near-post touch beat Cooper but spun past the far upright.

    Daka’s last action was firing wide when well placed at the far post after 67 minutes. He was replaced by former England international striker Jamie Vardy.

    With just over 15 minutes remaining, Wout Faes’ cross from the right was smashed towards goal by Mavididi but again, Cooper was equal to the effort.

    Cooper made an even better stop, bravely diving in to deny Vardy as the Leicester striker broke into the box, one-on-one, in the 88th minute but the hosts held on for the much-needed victory.

  • Ange Postecoglou: I’ve no interest in filming a new docuseries at Tottenham Ange Postecoglou: I’ve no interest in filming a new docuseries at Tottenham

    Ange Postecoglou has no interest in following the lead of Newcastle and other clubs, which includes his own, of allowing the TV cameras inside the Tottenham dressing room to film a documentary.

    Spurs return to St James’ Park on Saturday for the first time since their 6-1 thrashing last April, which features in a recent docuseries about the north-east club.

    Episode three of the four-part series focuses on a match which proved the nadir of a sorry season for Tottenham and subsequently resulted in the appointment of Postecoglou in June.

    This documentary about Newcastle is the latest in a collection of sports series by Amazon Prime, which includes Spurs’ 2019-20 campaign where then-manager Jose Mourinho predictably proved a TV star, but the current coach in the hotseat has no such burning desire.

    “Nah, unless you want a cure for insomnia, mate. Put it on late at night and dream yourself away,” Postecoglou replied when asked if he would feature in a behind-the-lens documentary.

    “I’ve probably watched… I watched Sunderland ‘Til I Die, it was good.

    “(Not Tottenham) because I just think it becomes a bit manufactured. I’d be very surprised if you get a real sort of glance.

    “Look, who am I to say? I’m no movie critic. Maybe people like them, but not for me. I love documentaries, but nah.”

    The Newcastle documentary is not the only footage Postecoglou has no interest in viewing.

    He has also declined to watch back Tottenham’s five-goal humbling away to Eddie Howe’s team last season, which resulted in Spurs dismissing Cristian Stellini after he had stepped up on an interim basis to replace Antonio Conte, who left a month earlier.

    Postecoglou added: “I might have watched individual players in that game but I wouldn’t have watched the game as a reference point because it’s totally different.

    “It’s a different set of circumstances, different manager. I’m really reticent to judge and try to figure out what someone else thinks because I’m not in their shoes on a daily basis.

    “I have never used those kind of things and also, irrespective of what has happened in the past, I have more than likely been brought in to do something differently.

    “I watched all the players individually through the whole season to do my research on the players I was inheriting, but there wasn’t a lot for me to be gained from watching matches and trying to get some reference points as to how that’s going to affect what I am going to do.”

    Spurs travel to Newcastle in pole position to claim Champions League football after they leapfrogged Aston Villa last weekend to take control of the battle for fourth.

    Postecoglou has often cited the Magpies as an example of why qualifying for Europe’s elite competition is not a guarantee of long-term success, but was happy to talk up the potential of the Tottenham squad on Friday.

    “That’s the exciting thing for me with this group – we’ve got a real core and there’s still so much growth in them,” he explained.

    “Invariably, it’s their first season in the Premier League or they’re young in age and they’ve adapted so well at a big club where there are expectations.

    “It’s not like they’re going to fly under the radar by doing two or three years before moving to a big club. They’re under the spotlight straightaway.

    “I have been pleased with that, with the way the guys have accepted the challenge of playing for the club and challenging them to play in a certain way – and it’s going to expose them in many respects – but they’ve not shied away from that.”

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