NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has revealed he’d be ‘disappointed’ if Newcastle United somehow missed out on Champions League football.
Deep into the final three weeks of the season, the Magpies are three points clear of fifth-placed Liverpool, with a game in hand. Newcastle, who occupy third place in the Premier League standings, also play their next encounter two days prior to the Reds, taking on Leeds United in the top flight early kick-off on Saturday.
And while Howe is keen not to dwell on the negatives heading to Yorkshire to take on the struggling Whites, he has let slip that he would be less than pleased should his side throw away a chance at top four qualification, especially as the situation is in their own hands.
When asked whether he would be disappointed, Howe said: “I have to say at this moment, probably, yes. But I don’t really want to focus on that negative.
“It’s a difficult question to answer because you’re trying to take me somewhere that I don’t want to be. We are where we are at the moment and we want to consolidate that and do as well as we can in these last four games. I’d be better answering that at the end of the season.”
For the first time since the 2011-12 season, Newcastle have secured European qualification. The following season, 2012-13, Alan Pardew took his fifth-placed finishers to a Europa League quarterfinal, which ended in an aggregate loss to Benfica.
Howe is keen for the “back slapping” to be kept to the end of the season, though.
“When you look at that as a statement, you transport yourself back to the start of the season and go ‘we will guarantee European football the following season’ would have been ‘wow, that’s incredible’,” he said.
“Nothing more than Newcastle deserves but the supporters deserve that experience. But that in itself would have been an incredible thing to achieve. We do need to keep it in context but we have a bigger prize to try and achieve.
“I think in sport the last bit is always the most difficult thing. That is why it is important that I alleviate the pressure from the players and we have tried to do that in training this week. We have tried to make sure they have enjoyed themselves and have some fun and just switch off from probably the endless things they will hear.
“It is about football and trying to win the next few games. The best way to do that is to enjoy what they are going for.”
Newcastle will come up against former manager Sam Allardyce in the Elland Road dugout this weekend, a little more than a week after he was appointed in a last gasp bid to keep Leeds in the Premier League.
While Allardyce is far from popular with Newcastle fans, he is certainly admired by Howe.
“You admire anyone who has that sort of team and he did it very cleverly. It wasn’t luck. He strategically planned it and executed it really well, fair play to him. His career, you look at the clubs he’s managed, he’s got a great CV.
“I think we saw enough to see what Sam is going to give the team — clear organization, clear structure and definite philosophy in and out of possession. For us, watching it (Man City v Leeds) back, you could see the impact he’s had on the team in a very short period of time. They’re going to be tough to play against and ask questions our back four, and we need to find the answers. Set plays, they’re going to be a big threat. It’ll be a totally different test to the one it could have been a couple of weeks earlier.”
Meanwhile, Howe has delivered news that Sean Longstaff will again miss the encounter with a foot problem and substitute Matt Ritchie will be out for the rest of the campaign, which could be his last at St. James’ Park, given the fact his contract is up at the end of the season.
On Longstaff, Howe said: “He went to see a specialist. There were a few concerns that maybe he’d suffered some sort of structural damage in his foot but there wasn’t, which was good news, but there is a bit of damage to one of the ligaments. He’s being rescanned today (Friday) which we hope will show an improvement. It’s slightly unclear when he’ll be back but it’s not a long-term issue. It’s just whether we can get him back before the end of the season.”
In relation to Ritchie, he added: “Matt has picked up a knee injury. I don’t think it’s too bad but I think it will keep him out for the rest of the season.”