NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has laid down the gauntlet to his Newcastle United players, after stating that they are playing for their futures at St James’ Park.
The Magpies have suffered an end-of-season drop-off in form in recent weeks. After going nine games unbeaten in the Premier League, they have lost their last three, albeit all of them were away from home.
The 5-1 humbling by Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday in particular brought Newcastle down to earth with a bump, after the lengthy unbeaten run had helped them pull 10 points clear of the bottom three. Their last three results have left them just seven points clear of the relegation zone, with eight games to play.
The recent defeats, including the second-half capitulation in North London this week, prompted some observers to question whether the players thought they were safe and had taken their feet off the gas too soon. Howe insists that is not the case.
“I think everyone’s always playing for their future,” said the head coach. “Every day in training, I’m making assessments and judgments on character, on attitude, and that’s where you really see what the players are like, behind the scenes, day to day.
“My expectations on the training ground are very high. I want everyone to give their best in every moment, so some players can find that a challenge. But that’s what you need for long-term success, so every day I’m analyzing and making decisions about people’s futures based on what I see.”
The hammering by Spurs sparked a lot of criticism and Howe believes the players should take it on the chin.
“Yeah, and rightly so,” he said. “I think there should be criticism for our second-half performance. Certainly, I was very critical of it and I know the players were disappointed as well. I’ve got no issues taking that.
“I do feel we’ve made great strides in recent months but I think you’re always accountable to your recent performances. That’s how football works and how it should work. We have to respond now.”
If some are indeed guilty of taking their eye off the ball when it comes to the battle at the bottom of the table, Howe is definitely not one of them.
Burnley’s dramatic 3-2 late win over fellow relegation battlers Everton on Wednesday not only transformed their outlook heading into the Premier League home straight, it has Howe looking over his shoulder.
“We’re aware of the results but we can’t control them,” he said. “For me, we’ve never been in anything other than a relegation battle. Until we get the points we need, that is always going to be the case.
“We know how difficult the Premier League is and how important momentum is. Now, we’ve gone three games without winning and we need to feel that we can wrestle the momentum back, and that’s going to be down to our attitude and approach to the game and emphasizing the importance to the players but also everyone connected with the club.
“We really need that feeling in the ground that this is a massive, massive game.”