'Newcastle must salvage season heading for anti-climax'

'Newcastle must salvage season heading for anti-climax'

Mar 19, 2024
Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe
Newcastle boss Eddie Howe has lost 16 of his 18 meetings with Manchester City in all competitions

Newcastle United’s long wait to win a trophy will now extend to 56 years and manager Eddie Howe must mount a salvage operation to stop a season of expectation ending as one of desperate anti-climax followed by heavy scrutiny.

City’s goals were both laced with a heavy sprinkling of good fortune, but the big worry for Howe is that Newcastle never for one moment looked like they had the self-belief or conviction to win.

As an FA Cup quarter-final contest, this was hopelessly one-sided, with the second half a rather tedious, timid spectacle that was only enlivened by the magnificent, noisy support of Newcastle’s 8,000 travelling fans.

Newcastle tried – that much cannot be denied – but they look jaded, in need of serious renewal, and a world away from the team that created such excitement on Tyneside by qualifying for this season’s Champions League.

The October night when Paris St Germain, Kylian Mbappe and all, were swept away 4-1 on a tide of Geordie passion and emotion is now a glorious, but very distant, memory.

Howe’s future

The stats were damning, with Newcastle only having two shots and just one on target in a game City dominated with 72% possession.

Howe accepted that, along with Newcastle’s overall performance, was not good enough – but insisted this season cannot be allowed to peter out.

He will know this is crucial, not simply because European qualification is still a possibility, but also to stop any increase in noise around his own future – although the strong belief is that Howe will take the Magpies into next season come what may.

Newcastle’s followers certainly threw their support behind Howe as they chanted the names of the manager and his assistant Jason Tindall throughout the second half.

The task of lifting spirits will be easier said than done because Newcastle, currently 10th in the Premier League with Chelsea only a point behind and having a game in hand, look like a team stripped of energy and key players, and out on their feet.

Newcastle’s trademark in their rise to the top four was intensity. There is no energy in this team. Effort, yes. Endeavour, yes. Intensity, no.

They looked limited, timid, lacking in confidence. These were charges that could never have been aimed in Newcastle’s direction last season.

Transfer business

Newcastle’s season is now in danger of falling away into a major disappointment, one where serious questions will be asked about how the club has lost its way after the glorious success of last season.

They certainly travelled forward further than expected last season, to the point where they were ahead of schedule in Europe’s elite competition. But they have also undoubtedly travelled backwards further than expected this season.

Injuries are a factor, with important players like Kieran Trippier, Joelinton, Nick Pope, Callum Wilson and Tino Livramento all missing on Saturday.

But Newcastle’s transfer business last summer has also contributed to the position they now find themselves in.

The team that played here was still heavily populated by players who figured under Steve Bruce, alongside those signed by Howe such as Sven Botman, Anthony Gordon, Alexander Isak, Dan Burn and Bruno Guimaraes.

Harvey Barnes has spent more time injured than fit following his £45m move from Leicester City, while 19-year-old left-back Lewis Hall, who will cost £28m when his loan move from Chelsea is made permanent in the summer, is clearly not felt to be ready to start.

And the club was totally blindsided when Sandro Tonali, their £55m summer signing from AC Milan, was banned for 10 months for breaching betting rules, offences committed before his arrival on Tyneside.

Of last summer’s arrivals, Livramento is the exception as a success.

Crucial phase

The ambition of Newcastle’s Saudi Arabian owners is well known – and limitless – so they will not be enjoying the club’s current reduced circumstance, although Financial Fair Play means they cannot wield their full financial firepower.

There is an appreciation, rightly, for what Howe has achieved at Newcastle. But the club cannot afford another flawed summer in the transfer market, otherwise there will be pressure on everyone at St James’ Park.

This was another disappointing night in a disappointing season. As Howe prepares to take his squad to Dubai for a rest cure followed by warm weather work before their season resumes at home to West Ham United after the international break, he will know he is now approaching one of the most crucial phases of his time on Tyneside.

Howe and Newcastle can still rescue something from this underwhelming campaign, with the outside chance of a European place – but on this evidence, even the Toon Army will not be holding their breath.

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