Eddie Howe drops subtle Newcastle United transfer hint

It was a night to forget at Hillsborough for Eddie Howe, his players, Newcastle United’s 4,500 travelling fans – and those watching at home on TV.

But last night’s 2-1 defeat will only really fade in the memory if the club beats Leicester City at St James’s Park in Tuesday night’s Carabao Cup quarter-final against Leicester City.

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That shock 1-0 home defeat turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

At the time, United were 19th in the Premier League, and Howe’s team, bolstered by five January signings, went on an eight-game unbeaten run which lifted the club up to 14th in the table.

A year on, Newcastle, unrecognisable from the disorganised side Howe inherited, are third in the league. So much has changed since then – on and off the pitch.

Howe, however, doesn’t yet have a squad capable of fighting on three fronts.

Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe.Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe.
Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe.
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And the bigger picture is that United have a chance of going all the way in the Carabao Cup – and qualifying for European football.

United’s head coach, citing “fatigue”, made eight changes from Tuesday night’s goalless draw against Premier League leaders Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.

“You pick it (the starting XI) looking ahead to future games, of course,” said Howe, who sent on Bruno Guimaraes, Miguel Almiron and Kieran Trippier at Hillsborough as his team chased the game. “We have a very quick turnaround for Leicester.

“I felt I saw some fatigue in the Arsenal performance. The lads gave everything. I thought it’d be unwise of me to pick the same team for this game - and Leicester as well.

Newcastle United's Chris Wood reacts after the final whistle at Hillsborough.Newcastle United's Chris Wood reacts after the final whistle at Hillsborough.
Newcastle United's Chris Wood reacts after the final whistle at Hillsborough.
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“I’m not sure the lads were physically able to give their best if I did that, hence the changes.”

The game at Hillsborough highlighted a lack of squad depth at Newcastle compared to other clubs at the top end of the Premier League.

Howe hopes to sign more players in this month’s transfer window, but United, for the moment, are constrained by financial fair play rules which limit their spending.

Significantly, Howe – who handed club-record signing Alexander Isak his comeback against Wednesday – has spoken about being only able to strengthen the squad, and not the starting XI, in the window.

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Speaking ahead of the FA Cup game, Howe said: "We’ve spent money in the previous two windows.

“Financial fair play’s impacting what we can do, so I think it goes against financial fair play, and our need to improve, and I think they’re two different things.”

Howe attempted to “protect” his first team with the changes he made at Hillsborough, and he dropped a subtle hint about needing reinforcements when he spoke to reporters after the game.

“We have a very small squad, and have to protect that squad for games ahead,” said Howe.

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It was a subtle hint from Howe on what's needed amid ongoing efforts in the transfer market.