In Focus: Toon must use their Ed to turn fortunes around
A mortifying FA Cup exit to League One Cambridge last weekend served as a timely reminder that Newcastle will need more than deep pockets to save their season.
While big names continue to be linked with moves to St James’ Park on a daily basis, getting points on the board remains Toon boss Eddie Howe’s primary concern.
Two months into his time on Tyneside, we assess the job Howe has done so far and whether the mega-rich Magpies will have enough to beat the dreaded drop.
Announced as the new boss in early November, Howe missed the first game of his tenure — a 3-3 draw with Brentford — due to a positive coronavirus test.
Since then, the 44-year-old has overseen eight games from the dugout with only one solitary win, two draws and five defeats.
On first glance, that is a worrying set of results. Yet it is important to note that the losses, aside from the Cambridge debacle, have come against Arsenal, Leicester, Liverpool and Manchester City.
The Toon were worthy winners over relegation rivals Burnley and earned a credible point against fellow strugglers Norwich given they played over 80 minutes of the contest with 10 men.
The highlight of Howe’s tenure to date was unquestionably December’s 1-1 home draw with Manchester United — a game they were extremely unfortunate not to win.
It is fair to conclude that Howe’s Newcastle have shown themselves to be strong against poorer sides but generally inferior against the division’s leading lights.
And with five of their next six matches coming against bottom-half opponents, a continuation of that trend could feasibly leave things looking much rosier come the start of March.
However, last weekend’s loss to Cambridge showcased another negative factor that Howe is contending with — fragile confidence in the camp.
As a result of that tough run of fixtures, combined with coronavirus postponements, Newcastle are without a win of any sort since December 4 and that showed against the plucky U’s.
Despite carving out a host of chances, they lacked the composure to convert any of them and, especially after falling behind, looked like a team short on ideas going forward.
Newcastle’s intention to invest in their playing squad this month has been common knowledge since they were taken over — and they have wasted little time in getting going.
The capture of Kieran Trippier from Atletico Madrid for an initial £12million looks like astute business, while a deal for Burnley striker Chris Wood also appears close to completion.
While Wood may not be as glamorous as other forwards previously linked with the Magpies, the 30-year-old Kiwi should provide an able line-leader while prolific No9 Callum Wilson is sidelined through injury.
The spending is unlikely to stop there either. Lille centre-half Sven Botman continues to be monitored closely while at least one other forward should arrive according to transfer guru Fabrizio Romano.
Bringing in expensive additions is no guarantee of success — but it is unquestionably a trump card that the Toon hold over their relegation rivals.
A few of the underlying statistics since the new manager’s arrival also offer some room for cautious optimism.
Howe’s plan of implementing a high energy, counter-attacking style of play is already coming to fruition, with an average of 15.5 take-ons per 90 minutes comfortably trumping fellow strugglers Norwich (13.8) and Burnley (11) over the same period.
Considering the strength of opposition faced in that run too, it is fair to assume that the ex-Bournemouth chief’s side will enjoy increased success going forward in their upcoming matches.
Newcastle have only faced two bottom-half sides under Howe — and while the Canaries draw was skewed by Ciaran Clark’s early sending off, victory over his former club Burnley came via an accomplished performance.
The Toon dominated their opponents in every metric and Howe will surely look to draw on that effort ahead of what are a seismic set of upcoming encounters.
Currently at the midway point of their league campaign, Newcastle need a much improved second half of the season if they are to avoid a disastrous relegation.
Saturday’s home clash with Watford looks a golden opportunity to start the turnaround with the Hornets having lost their last six Premier League matches.
A victory may even be enough to drag the hosts out of the relegation zone come 5pm, which would provide a huge morale boost to players and fans alike.
Lose, however, and Howe’s men will find themselves five points adrift of safety — not exactly the most attractive position in which to try and lure new signings to Tyneside.
With clashes against struggling Leeds and Everton following soon after, the next three outings look sure to set the tone for a colossal few months.