NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has not given up hope Newcastle United can make an instant return to the Champions League and warned critics not to write off his players.
The Magpies have slid down the Premier League table in recent weeks having suffered six defeats in seven. It is a run that has also seen them exit the Champions League and the Carabao Cup at the quarterfinal stage.
That sequence of results has seen critics round on Howe for the first time in his tenure on Tyneside. And there is no guarantee things will not get worse before they get better, with a trip to Anfield to take on Liverpool on Monday on the horizon. That is swiftly followed by a first Tyne-Wear derby in nearly a decade against Sunderland in the FA Cup, then Manchester City at home and Aston Villa away in the top flight.
“The intention is to finish as high as we can and, of course, European football will always be a target for us,” Howe said.
“I can’t speak on behalf of other people in terms of a minimum expectation. My minimum expectation is to achieve the best that we can, and we’ll work toward that on a daily basis. We’re still very ambitious for this season and we haven’t given up hope or belief that we are capable of fighting back, for sure.”
On his team’s chances of finishing in a top four, Champions League, place, Howe said: “If that’s possible then we will go for it. We haven’t written anything off. We’re frustrated with the last two results in particular, because if we’d won those we’d be right back in the mix. I see that as a missed opportunity and I know the players feel the same way. But we can’t look back, we can only look forward. It’s a challenging and busy month but one that we need to embrace.”
The coach, whose side lost to Nottingham Forest and Luton Town in their last two, said critics should write his players off at their peril, because under his stewardship, they have always bounced back.
“Yes, I think so (dangerous to write players off). No part of me doubts the ability in the squad. No, not at all.
“I just think we’ve had a difficult few weeks, and it happens. But what you can’t do is allow those difficult few weeks to hang over and become a difficult few months, so the challenge for us is to bring our best qualities back to the football pitch,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s wrong to criticize the players, because when you play for this football club, you are in a position where you have to consistently prove yourself. The players are no different to myself, to everyone — you’re in a job where you’re there to be questioned and you have to continually try and find the right answers, and that’s what we’ll do.
“Certainly you can question a lot of things but I don’t think you can question the character and attitude of the group. And even in a disappointing defeat against Nottingham Forest, we kept going until the end. I didn’t think it was due to a lack of effort but we didn’t perform.
“Of course we know we need to play better. But the attitude and character of the players for two and a bit years has been of the highest level.”
Howe said he did not yet know if he would have any cash to spend in the January transfer window.
After a massively faltering December, the winter window feels like the perfect opportunity for the club to strengthen their hand. But Howe, although not ruling anything out, said any spending would have to be in line with the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability criteria, commonly referred to as Financial Fair Play.
“No, we haven’t had those assurances (that there will be money to spend.) It’s a difficult month as we always say when January comes around. I apologize if I sound like I’m saying the same things but it’s a very difficult month to bring in quality players. Financial Fair Play continues to play a part in our decision-making but let’s wait and see.”
Clubs are only allowed to make certain losses against their three-year rolling balance sheet and at present, as per the end of the summer window in 2023, the Magpies are right at the limit of what they can spend.
“FFP is something that I’m still coming to terms with, to understand myself, I think everyone is related to the game because there are so many parts to it that are always moving,” Howe said.
“I’m not going to give you a clear answer to that. I think FFP is very active in our thoughts, we’re trying to navigate it and work around it. So we’ll wait and see.”
The coach is understood to be keen to strengthen in three key areas in the next two windows, with a goalkeeper increasing in priority due to the long-term injury suffered by Nick Pope. He also wants a versatile forward to compete with the front three, as well as a central midfielder. As things stand, the large loan fee being asked by Manchester City for Kalvin Phillips, as well as a strong interest from Juventus, is scuppering that one getting done.
On the injury front, skipper Jamaal Lascelles is in with a chance of making the bench for the trip to Merseyside, but the game is expected to come around too soon for the likes of Joe Willock and Harvey Barnes, both of whom are back in training.
As well as Willock and Barnes, the Magpies continue to be without Pope, Matt Targett, Javier Manquillo, Jacob Murphy and Elliot Anderson.