For the first time this season, frustration within the St James’ Park faithful was audible. Newcastle United’s fans booed their team at full time of Boxing Day’s 3-1 home defeat to Nottingham Forest, releasing the valve on disgruntlement built over a run of just one win from seven matches in all competitions.
Last season, Newcastle overachieved to finish in the top four. This season, though, it’ll take a remarkable turnaround for the Magpies to keep their seat at the Champions League table, particularly with some difficult fixtures – including games against Liverpool, Manchester City and Aston Villa – coming soon.
Injuries have given Eddie Howe an excuse to explain Newcastle’s inconsistent form, and it’s certainly true that their long list of absentees has been a factor. Against Forest, though, Newcastle were able to start a largely full-strength team with the exception of teenage midfielder Lewis Miley who has emerged as a star in recent weeks.
They should have had the quality to break down a Nottingham Forest team that had gone seven games without a win in the Premier League. Instead, Newcastle looked short of ideas and were too easy to pick off on the counter-attack. Forest could have scored more than the three goals they finished with.
Newcastle no longer have Champions League commitments clogging their schedule either. While they were still in Europe, Howe could argue that his squad was ill-equipped to handle fighting on numerous fronts, particularly with the number of injuries suffered by key players. He doesn’t have that excuse either now now.
“I’ll be prepared to make any change that I think can benefit the performance or the result, and of course players are accountable for what they deliver,” Howe said after the disappointing defeat to Forest. “No amount of credit in the bank is big enough. You have to earn everything and I am a firm believer in that. Players know they have to perform and we have to change our short-term form.”
Howe himself also must prove that he’s good enough to take Newcastle United forward. The 46-year-old has done an exceptional job to date at St James’ Park, but this is a club that expected to be competing at the elite level of English and European football with the backing of Saudi Arabia and their billions.
So far, Newcastle have been level-headed in the decisions they have taken since the takeover in October 2021. They have a clear vision for the club and this is reflected in the players they have signed – the Magpies have generally targeted talented youngsters with the potential to develop further over big-name superstars.
However, the decision-makers at St James’ Park surely won’t tolerate sliding back down the mountain they worked so hard to climb in the first place. If sacking Howe would improve Newcastle United’s results and performances on the pitch, the Magpies would be foolish not to consider it.
There would be no shortage of quality managers linked with the Newcastle United job if Howe were to leave. The club now has the resources to compete with anyone at the top level and the project being built at St James’ Park would be attractive to many – see Antonio Conte, Zinedine Zidane, Robert De Zerbi etc.
It’s still possible Howe will turn things around and point Newcastle United in the right direction again. He could also end the club’s long trophy drought by winning the Carabao Cup. The trouble with success, though, is that once you have achieved it, fans expect it to never even. Howe is becoming a victim of this.