NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe is relishing a St. James’ Park return having spent the majority of the recent Premier League campaign on the road.
Six of Newcastle’s last seven top-flight encounters have been away from home — only the home win over Brighton and Hove Albion last month has been staged on Tyneside.
And off the back of three straight defeats elsewhere, Howe cannot wait to get going again on home turf.
“It’s massive for us to be back at home, it feels like a long time. We have had a very intense period of away games," said the former Bournemouth boss, whose side take on Wolverhampton Wanderers on Friday evening.
“It’s a difficult one because, as you say, I’m so focused on the game.
“You’ve got to remember when you’re managing the team, you’re not looking around going, ‘Isn’t this amazing?’ You’re going, ‘What do I need to do to help the team at this moment? Is there anything I can change or do to help improve our chances of winning the game?’
“You’re sort of in concentration mode the whole match but, at the end of it, you get that feeling of, ‘Wow. What an atmosphere. What a brilliant place to play football.’ It's like a theater. I loved it as an away manager.
“There’s not many games or grounds that I can say that about but, as a home manager, it takes on a whole new meaning and I’m loving every second of it.”
Newcastle’s next four games will go a long way to deciding their Premier League fate, with Leicester City and Crystal Palace to follow at home this month, as well as a trip to bottom-placed Norwich City.
Two wins in that quartet of games is likely to see top-flight football secured on Tyneside for another year. But more losses and things will start to look a whole lot tougher, with the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal to come in the final weeks of the season.
Howe said: “We hope, first and foremost, we approach the Wolves game in the right way. This is going to be a big couple of weeks for us. Our run-in, on paper, looks very, very difficult. We have to maximize every game.
“It’s very difficult to look too far ahead but we are aware of the fixtures we have ahead. Any home game, we have to maximize and give our all. That has to show in our performance.”
Meanwhile, on the injury front, Howe will make a late call on the fitness of midfielder Joe Willock.
The former Arsenal man aggravated a long-standing knee issue in the 5-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday and is a doubt for the Wolves match.
Howe said: “Joe Willock has a slight knee problem. It’s been there for a couple of weeks, so we’re going to make a late call.
“We don’t think it’s anything serious but certainly he’s become a little bit more aware of it in training and I think it’s something we just need to stay on top of.”
As for the rest of the squad’s fitness, Howe confirmed: “Not anyone (to worry about) apart from the long-term. There’s been a bit of illness in the camp for, I’d say, three or four weeks. When these things go through your squad, you’re always picking up the effects of it.
“We’ve had some illness this week and players are struggling to get rid of things they’ve been carrying for a while.”