Three games into his Newcastle tenure, Eddie Howe is still without a win – with a tough run of fixtures to come, is there any hope restored at St James’ Park?
Tuesday’s home draw with Norwich extended Newcastle’s winless run at the start of the Premier League season to 14 games. Only Swindon in 1993, QPR in 2012 and Sheffield United last year have got to this point of a campaign without a victory under their belts. They were all relegated.
On paper, it looks like the richest club in the world will fall to the same fate – Newcastle could be eight points off 17th by the end of the midweek round of fixtures, with a tough run of games coming up.
After facing Burnley on Saturday, the Magpies’ fixture list through December does not make for festive reading – games against Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United take them through the Christmas period. By that point, they will be 18 games into the season. If they haven’t won a match by then, they will set a new Premier League record.
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Is Newcastle’s position retrievable?
On paper, it is a mixed bag. If they pick up form in the second half of the season, it is far from beyond the realms of possibility, especially given that they are, at the time of writing, only six points away from Watford, the team directly above the drop zone.
However, things obviously need to change. Not only have Newcastle not won this season, they have not kept a single clean sheet, and conceded an average of more than two goals a game.
FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Newcastle’s draw with Norwich in the Premier League.
The fixture list does not help them either. Of the nine other teams in the bottom half of the table, they have already played four at St James’ Park, including a Norwich side many predicted they had to beat – and did not.
Newcastle have lost the same number of games as 13th-placed Aston Villa, but while Steven Gerrard’s side have five wins to show for their efforts, Howe’s side have none.
“We know we need wins, draws aren’t going to be enough,” he said after their latest dropped points against Norwich. “But I think all you can do in every game is give your all and I think you saw a group of players who gave that. I couldn’t ask any more of those players who committed to the task ahead so I have to be very proud and pleased with them tonight.”
Where can they pick up points? In the New Year, so long as they aren’t totally cut adrift by that point, Newcastle face Southampton, Watford and Leeds in the first three games of 2022 – and will need to pick up points to keep their survival chances alive.
After facing Burnley, the side directly above them, at the weekend, only four of Newcastle’s remaining home games are against bottom-half opposition – and that includes a Crystal Palace side, who have lost one of their last eight games, and a reinvigorated Aston Villa team who have won their last two.
Picking up points at St James’ Park probably is not going to be enough. Newcastle will have to win away from home. That said, it is not something they have found too tricky in recent years – across the last two seasons, 48 per cent of Newcastle’s wins have come on the road, with the caveat that many were played in front of slightly less intimidating empty stadiums.
Newcastle also need to stop wasting fast starts with such regularity. Had they kept hold of even half of the points they have thrown away from winning positions, they would be level on points with Southampton and outside the relegation zone completely.
Clearly there is something to build on to have led in six different games so far – but equally, worries from their lack of killer instinct.
Is Howe improving Newcastle?
Newcastle’s new manager has certainly not had an easy start to be able to show what he would have liked in two on-paper winnable games.
Howe was trapped in a hotel room isolating after testing positive with Covid-19 as they drew 3-3 with Brentford in what should have been his first game in the dugout, and against Norwich on Tuesday night, Ciaran Clark’s early red card stripped him of a level playing field against what many had expected to be his easiest opposition of the season.
Their stats make for slightly better reading, albeit from a very small sample size so far, although things still aren’t looking great. An xG of 1.76 against Brentford was their third-highest of the season, and only the second match with a significantly higher tally than their opposition.
But on the flip side, the tallies against Arsenal and Norwich, even with 10 men, weren’t particularly great at either ends of the pitch.
Under Howe, Newcastle have had more shots, and played slightly more in the final third of the pitch. There is certainly some early signs of an attempt to move them away from the low-block defensive football which started the season, albeit’s very early days yet.
Their game against Brentford, even in his absence, went some way towards introducing the kind of attacking football he said would “do the fans and city proud”, even if there was no victory to accompany it.
Joelinton’s improvements have been among the highlights of the new manager’s early reign, and his performance against Norwich when he turned into almost a box-to-box attacking midfielder only added to the feeling that perhaps his days on Tyneside are not numbered after all.
“Solving the Joelinton puzzle has brought immediate rewards for Howe: a goal on his debut hinted at renewed attacking confidence but a 90 minute performance laced with graft and craft brought threatened to reap greater dividends.” wrote the Newcastle Chronicle’s Mark Douglas after the Brazilian’s latest performance.
Can January fix things?
It is quicker to name players who Newcastle have not been linked with now given the apparent war chest at their disposal and the need to get players through the door, but Howe struck a relatively sombre tone when asked about potential incomings earlier this week.
The manager said it would be “foolish” to make his own assurances to fans about what they can expect during the January transfer window, but Newcastle legend Alan Shearer has said his old club will need at least three additions to have a fighting chance of staying up.
“I think he needs at least three or four,” Shearer told Premier League Productions. “A couple of defenders, someone with a bit of guile in the midfield and, also, someone to take the weight off Callum Wilson up front in terms of goals.
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“That’s all right saying that but every single club, other than maybe Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, need a forward and someone to put the ball in the back of the net.
“Newcastle’s big issue at the minute is defensively. They’re nowhere near good enough those defenders that they’ve relied on for so long.
“They’ve kept them in the division the last couple of years by playing a certain way but once you open up, once you want to play on the front foot and play attacking football, you leave those defenders exposed and they’re not good enough.”
Newcastle are certainly likely to need some reinforcements to stabilise their season – as after their punishing December, Howe may already be facing a mammoth task to keep them in the division.
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