Newcastle United’s winless season reached 13 games on Saturday as new manager Eddie Howe got his first up-close sight of the task ahead of him and the club’s rich new owners, a sloppy but “could’ve been worse” 2-0 loss to Arsenal in London.
The Magpies weren’t expected to take anything from the Emirates Stadium — This is an Arsenal who has now beaten Newcastle in 18 of 19 meetings — but their next two games are must-wins with fellow relegation-scrappers Norwich City and Burnley visiting St. James’ Park.
Howe is going to hate the next few days with the media judging by the way he bristled when asked about the import of the next two games, but there’s no doubt he knows just how critical this period is to the Magpies.
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“This was a big task ahead of us that got slightly bigger today,” Howe said. “Every game’s a potential turning point, I don’t think we can target specific games. Every game we’ll try to win.”
AC/DC singer Brian Johnson didn’t write the band’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top” but it’s appropriate that the Geordie has been singing it for years in concert, because Newcastle may have more money than any club on earth but it’s going to need a year in the Championship if it doesn’t win this week.
In fact, it’s a rather long way to the top… half? 17?
Newcastle has a superior talent level to Norwich and Burnley, so losing or drawing either doesn’t mean the Magpies won’t be able to spin off a run that takes them past the Canaries and Clarets.
But Newcastle has to catch a third team in a division of 20 teams with fewer passengers than at any point in its history, and they’ll critically also have to remain appealing to transfer targets ahead of January. Few players of the caliber wanted by a club with the Magpies money will want to risk a season in the Championship.
And those that do on account of the money, as my colleague Andy Edwards rightly pointed out, may not be the type best suited to what’s going to be a grueling relegation fight.
If Newcastle, winners of zero games in 13 tries, is to find the year 2022 with a notch in the win column, it has to start with either Norwich or Burnley. If not, it will take a upset of some headline (especially considering the Magpies would’ve then become a team that was winless in 15 despite playing Norwich and Burnley).
Newcastle finishes the calendar year with Leicester City and Liverpool away, Man City and Man United at home, and Everton away. Good luck with that.
Howe noted that his men showed the correct amount of resolve against Arsenal and he’s right in saying that a couple of very good Aaron Ramsdale saves denied the Magpies a better chance at a point. But Arsenal was still vastly superior to the visitors and there were more than a few good bounces that went in Newcastle’s favor.
“You saw a committed team, a group of players that gave everything,” Howe said. “We started brightly but we weren’t our best with the ball today. There were counterattacking opportunities we could’ve delivered better, especially with the players we have in the team. We were the team trying to find a way back in, all those characteristics we’re going to need, we never dropped our heads today.”
Giving Norwich and Burnley three points each would put Newcastle’s two nearest competitors at least six points clear of it after 15 matches. That’s dreadful stuff even without an impending brutal run of fixtures.
But if Howe cannot claim all or most of the points against two teams everyone is happy to meet this season, Burnley and Norwich City will join a run of scores through 15 matches that doomed the Magpies to the bottom three before the triathlon hit the second phase.
The Magpies have drawn at home to Brentford, away to Watford, and home to Leeds and Southampton. Add Burnley and Norwich into the mix, and forget about it. Yes, Eddie, every game is important, but the rest will be realistically less so if the task at hand becomes improbable in the span of the next week.