NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe admits Newcastle United are “hopeful” Callum Wilson is close to a first-team return.
Images emerged this week of Wilson back at the Magpies’ Benton training base, just outside the city, taking part in light gym work and running outdoors.
The 30-year-old, who has been out since December with a calf problem, was only due to face eight weeks on the sidelines when diagnosed, but has been out for closer to 11.
And while offering a cautiously optimistic update, Howe accepts that he will have to wait a little while longer before Wilson is back in contention.
“We’re hopeful. His situation hasn’t changed from the update I gave you a few weeks ago,” said the head coach.
“He was out on the training pitch yesterday, a very, very light jog, but it’s the first time we’ve seen him on the grass, which was great.
“Whenever a player returns from an injury and you see them on the grass in their training kit, it’s a great thing to see.
“We hope to get Callum back but there is no guarantee at this moment. He’s still in the very early stages of running again.
“But he’ll be a massive player to get back at any stage of the season to give us a lift to go into the final few games.”
While Wilson is more likely to return next month at the earliest, one player who could hand Howe a boost is Joe Willock, with the player expected to be available for Thursday’s trip to Goodison Park.
Whether midfield partners Joelinton and Jonjo Shelvey will be available remains up for debate.
Howe said: “Willock, yes. He should be OK. He had an illness but returned to training yesterday (Tuesday).
“Shelvey, we’re waiting to see. He hasn’t trained yet, so he’s a slightly bigger concern.
“Joelinton is going to be touch and go. We have a decision to make whether we look after him until the break we have afterwards or push him back out there. We’ll have to make a late call.
“Fede Fernandez will hopefully train today (Wednesday) but he’s obviously had quite a layoff and a slightly broken rehab.”
Howe must make a call on whether he sticks with the same team and system that went within 60 seconds of securing a well-deserved point at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Due to the last-minute pullout of stand-in skipper Shelvey in London due to illness, Howe reverted to a 5-4-1 formation from the Magpies’ usual 4-3-3.
That saw Jamaal Lascelles come back into the side after an unexpectedly prolonged absence. A shift back to Howe’s preferred formation may well see the central defender sent back to the bench.
Howe, though, can’t fault Lascelles’ attitude of late.
“His attitude has been spot on. He’s our captain and he’s led like a captain in a difficult moment because he’d want to play every game,” said Howe.
“I always think it’s a true test of a leader in difficult moments and I think Jamaal has been absolutely superb, he has been positive in training, before the game and I can’t speak highly enough of his reaction.
“Let’s not forget it’s only through a sickness bug that saw him miss the game then the two guys came together and did very well so it’s not a reflection on his performances, and against Chelsea he was excellent.”
With Willock available, another player who could be sweating on their place in the side is Sean Longstaff, who put in a man-of-the-match performance against the Blues.
Howe is delighted to see every member of the squad take their chance when brought back into the side.
“It pleases me a lot, you need that consistency from your players whether they’re playing or not. You need to be able to challenge your players,” Howe said of returnees to the side.
“When you look at Sean Longtstaff coming in after not playing for a decent period of time, I thought he was excellent and it was a testament to how he’s looked after himself that he was able to play 90 minutes of a physically demanding game.
“The same goes to other players who have come in and taken their opportunity.”