NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe believes recent dark moments have inspired his Newcastle United team to drive clear of Premier League relegation trouble.
However, the head coach still refuses to accept the Magpies are yet 100 percent safe in their quest to remain a top-flight side next season.
Having been deep in relegation trouble in December and January, a run of eight wins in their last 12 games has catapulted Howe’s United into a state of relative mid-table safety. The latest was one of their most dramatic yet, with $52-million January-transfer Bruno Guimaraes netting a 94th-minute winner as Newcastle came from a goal down to beat UEFA Conference League semifinalists Leicester City at St. James’ Park.
The late drama on Sunday ensured the gap to third-bottom has now stretched to 12 points, with many at the bottom having just 18 more to play for this campaign.
It was a far cry from the mood and performances that engulfed the club in the depths of the English winter. As temperatures dipped, so too did hopes and expectation as the Magpies crashed out of the FA Cup to third-tier Cambridge United, then slipped up at home to then relegation rivals Watford.
It was a week Howe will never forget, and one he described as “damaging” to the Magpies’ hopes of retaining their top-flight status.
“Those moments never leave you. Not just after the Watford game, but the Cambridge one,” said the head coach, ahead of United’s clash with FA Cup semifinalists Crystal Palace on Wednesday evening.
“At that time we were in desperate need of a lift. We thought that game would bring it, Watford the same. We were devastated after that game.
“Sometimes those moments, adversity, can help you. The dark moments can reinspire, refocus.
“As I said recently, as much as I didn’t want the second half at Tottenham to happen, it could be a good thing to refocus our minds and remember what got us to where we are. Our defensive resilience has thankfully come back — the lads have been excellent.”
One noticeable turnaround has been Newcastle’s home form under Howe.
Having struggled to get wins on Tyneside in the early months of the season, United have now won their last five on home turf, three of which have come against teams placed in the top 10 when faced, and all of which were against teams above the Magpies in the Premier League table.
“Our home form was always going to be key to us staying in the division,” Howe said.
“I really wanted to create an environment where the players were excited to play at home, and wanted to play at home. And I have to give the supporters huge credit — they have created that environment very quickly.
“They have shown they are keen to express themselves and play here without pressure.
“The supporters have stuck with us and have been rewarded. This will live long in my memory, as you don’t often score many late goals that decide games. It was a brilliant, brilliant feeling for Bruno and everyone associated with Newcastle United.
“As for safety? We have work to do. We have points to get. You never know what can happen in football, it is such an unpredictable sport, but we are certainly in a much healthier position.”