For the first time since taking charge of Newcastle United a little over two years ago, Eddie Howe is under pressure as the Magpies look like they could be heading for a mid-table finish.

The progress of Newcastle United has been a consistent upward curve since Eddie Howe replaced Steve Bruce back in 2021. But things have suddenly turned a little sour, and a quick scroll of social media reveals plenty of fans calling for his head following a difficult campaign so far.

Howe did a splendid job last term in guiding the Magpies to a top-four finish, ensuring the North East outfit qualified for the Champions League ahead of the current season. However, his side have not kicked on and were dumped out of the European competition, finishing bottom of the group.

They have endured a tough time of things domestically too, as soon after their European exit, Howe’s side were sent packing from the Carabao Cup by Chelsea. They currently find themselves in an uphill battle to qualify for even the Europa Conference League, with Howe’s charges sitting in tenth place in the Premier League table after a run of just two wins from their last nine matches.

That has resulted in a few onlookers questioning his position at St. James’ Park. So much so that there are rumours swirling around that Newcastle United are seriously looking to sack Eddie Howe.

With that in mind, The Hard Tackle assesses whether it would be the right decision to abruptly part ways with the man who has lifted the doom and gloom and brought so many memories to the Geordies.

Newcastle United overachieved massively last season

The irony in all of the Howe-sack talk is that Newcastle are paying the price for their remarkable overachievement last season with the squad at their disposal, as Eddie Howe did a magnificent job to get Newcastle United to a League Cup final and a top-four finish in the Premier League.

They now find their project ahead of schedule. This has been a tough season, and it has resulted in Howe being a victim of his own success. After what he achieved last season, everyone expects you to do the same again, if not better.

But this is a long-term project, and it was not always going to be a straight line. Everything seemed to fall into place for Newcastle to have a dream season last campaign: fewer injuries and expectations, more training time, and chaos in the top six.

After so many highs after arriving, there had to be a dip under Howe and the Saudi ownership. That has been the case since the back end of 2023, and he is now trying to find a way to get back to the highs. But that was always going to be tough. And it has been even tougher due to our injury woes.

A full-blown injury crisis and a thin-bare squad lacking quality depth

Injuries have ruined Newcastle United on so many fronts this season, no doubt fuelled largely by trying to juggle four competitions prior to Christmas with what is still a modestly-sized squad.

At the start of December, Newcastle beat Manchester United to lift themselves up to fifth in the table, in the Carabao quarter-finals, and one win from the Champions League knockouts. They then lost eight of ten matches in the space of 31 days, were knocked out of two competitions, and suffered an unprecedented tumble down the table.

That gruelling winter run included conceding late over and over again. That was bound to happen in the end. Newcastle rely on a strong high press, incision, and quick transitions. But thanks to prior underinvestment and FFP, the squad is too thin, has had too many injuries, and so when they are too tired towards the end of matches, the press can collapse.

With backup defenders and academy kids on the bench, Eddie Howe could not change things, and the same 11/12 players, who have played almost every minute for a long stretch of games, were finally unable to ignore their fatigue.

Then there was the domino effect. Tiredness led to further injuries, and injuries compounded the tiredness of the remaining players, who could not fight through their exhaustion any longer. When it comes to Newcastle’s recent defensive troubles, weariness is undoubtedly lurking in the shadows. More often than not, players have been operating on fumes.

Embed from Getty Images

They have become a team with obvious weaknesses, and Howe has been unable to fix them. He has refused to change the system, sticking with the 4-3-3 formation that is easy to pass through a light-weight midfield trio—forced to play every game because of injuries and suspensions for months—of Bruno Guimaraes, Sean Longstaff, and Lewis Miley, while the defence (without Livramento) is vulnerable to pace at the back.

You will also be surprised to learn that most of the players who played under the previous ownership and have spent most of their careers in the lower Prem or Championship are still getting regular minutes in the side.

Club captain Jamaal Lascelles found his level at Blackburn Rovers and was at fault for their equaliser, letting a throw-in run by him, which left the Newcastle defence exposed. He has to move on this summer. He is the player who will come in if Fabian Schar or Sven Botman get injured, and that simply must be addressed.

Similarly, Dan Burn did well at left-back last season, but it’s about time they get themselves a proper full-back with decent recovery pace to lessen the defensive burden on the left-sided midfielder and winger.

The less said about one-tail pony Miguel Almiron, the better; the Paraguayan’s purple patch last season tricked everyone, including the board, who shipped off the wrong winger in Allan Saint-Maximin to Saudi Arabia last summer. The same can be said about Geordie boy Sean Longstaff, whose levels have dropped drastically since last season.

Howe is the best man for Newcastle under FFP restrictions

Many Newcastle United fans will say Eddie Howe is the best thing to happen to the club since the late great Bobby Robson managed the Toon. So, sacking Howe off the back of the first lean spell of his tenure after such sustained success would look premature and self-destructive. But then, we really don’t know how the owners will handle a situation like this.

Embed from Getty Images

Are they trigger happy like Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea, ready to change manager at the drop of a hat, or will they be patient and smart as they have been thus far? Another huge factor in Howe’s favour is: where else will the owners turn to replace him?

Reports in Italy have suggested that the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund are big admirer of Jose Mourinho, and the Portuguese manager left AS Roma earlier in the season. The news broke before Mourinho was sacked from the Serie A club, so it could be an easy appointment for Newcastle if they pull the trigger on Howe.

Indeed, Mourinho would be interested in the manager’s job at St. James’ Park due to the romantic Sir Bobby link. But the experienced coach won’t actually have his wish in terms of spending in the transfer market due to the stringent FFP restrictions put in place.

Newcastle CEO Darren Eales admitted the club could be forced to sell some of their biggest names to comply with the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules. Howe has already said there is a possibility that star midfielder Joelinton, whose contract runs for another 18 months, could be sold this summer amid a contract impasse.

The Magpies already have two capable replacements coming through the ranks, with youngsters Elliot Anderson and Lewis Miley both enjoying a good chunk of minutes in the first team. That brings us nicely to Howe’s ability to get the best out of his players, especially young guns, whilst playing an entertaining brand of football, which has made him such a popular figure on Tyneside.

He has a proven track record of nurturing young English talent and helping them reach their full potential, which is helping Newcastle massively in terms of manoeuvring their way around FFP going forward.

None of the obvious candidates to succeed Howe, such as Graham Potter, Mourinho, Antonio Conte, or Julen Lopetegui, would fit the bill, while recently-linked Girona manager Michel Sanchez and Germany manager Julian Nagelsmann boast a very similar profile to Howe and won’t be as familiar with the ins and outs of English football.

Patience is required, FA Cup is the key

This season has been underwhelming, but seeing it from a different lens will tell you otherwise. The Magpies’ gave a good account of themselves in the Champions League despite being in the so-called “Group of Death.”

If it was not for a late lapse of concentration from Kieran Trippier (partly down to fatigue that comes with playing more due to an injury crisis), they would have gone the whole hog in the Carabao Cup despite being handed the hardest run possible in recent memory. And all is not lost for Newcastle United yet.

They are still within a fair shout of finishing in a Europa League spot, provided they get their act together in the final stretch of the 2023/24 season, which has arguably been the most competitive in the top half in recent memory.

Justified or unfair, Howe was always going to come under fire if there was even the tiniest inkling that he may not be the man to lead Newcastle through stage two of their quest for world dominance, regardless of how convincingly and promptly he ticked off the first box.

Ever since Howe took the Newcastle job, he’s been constantly criticised by pundits — yes, I’m calling out talkSPORT’s Simon Jordan — for not being a proven winner and that they would need to hire someone like Mourinho if they were ever going to win a trophy.

As such, Manchester City’s first trophy arrived three years after their takeover went through when oil-rich tycoons from the Middle East swooped in to turnaround their fortunes with enormous investment with little-to-no FFP restriction and set the Citizens on an incredible trophy trail.

Newcastle United came very close to proving Jordan’s theory wrong last year as they reached the Carabao Cup final, their first final in 20 years, and Howe will be hoping to go one step further this year in the FA Cup.

Embed from Getty Images

Martin Dubravka’s heroics against Blackburn Rovers in the Last 16 tie mean they are just one win away from another trip to Wembley, though this time for a semi-final. If the 46-year-old could lead this team to their first domestic trophy since 1955, there is absolutely no doubt his job would be safe for next season, even if his side finishes mid-table in the league.

That will be easier said than done, of course, being drawn against FA Cup holders Manchester City in the quarterfinal. (Rotten luck!) Regardless, Howe has enough credit in the bank to bide his time to sort things out, such as moving on from the deadwood and trying out a new tactic or formation, which will inevitably lead to mistakes being made.

A big chunk of the Toon Army also continues to back their manager. And that is the feeling behind the scenes too, with the Telegraph reporting that he is currently under no pressure. So it should be, as banishing Howe would be a kneejerk reaction that fails to look at the bigger picture, more so after losing your sporting director, and could undo all of the progress made so far under the new ownership.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I agree to the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.


Welcome Back!

Login to your account below

Retrieve your password

Please enter your username or email address to reset your password.