Eddie Howe's stunned response to Newcastle United fans' gesture
Before kick-off time against Fulham, a giant Wor Flags surfer was unfurled in the Leazes End of St James’s Park.
The image on the surfer was of Howe, who has taken Newcastle United from the relegation zone to third in the Premier League – and the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.
There was also a recent quote from Howe under the surfer. It read: “We’re not here to be popular, we’re here to compete.”
Newcastle, above all else under Howe, are fiercely competitive. They playing attacking football, press high up the pitch – and make opponents work hard for every opportunity.
Where there was once a feeling of hopelessness, there’s now hope.
And the banner was a show of appreciation for the job done by Howe and his backroom team, and United’s head coach appreciated the gesture, which was followed by a hard-fought 1-0 win over Fulham.
“I didn’t expect it or know it was there, so to come out and see that was a really nice surprise for me personally,” said Howe. “I’m very thankful for that to everyone connected with Wor Flags. The important thing then is that we back up that message, which is easier said than done. The players did display that today.”
Howe places great importance on his relationship with his players. The 44-year-old also knows just how important the bond between him and the fanbase is to his chances of bringing success and silverware to the club.
Asked about his relationship with supporters, Howe said: “I think it’s huge. I don’t underestimate it. I hope to try to keep that relationship as positive as possible.
“I know it’s dependent on results, but I also think it’s dependent on my attitude, and the things I try to display about myself and how I go about the job.
“I try to show how important it is to me, how serious I take it, and how hard I work to defend the club at all times.
“You’re not always in control of the results, but I’m in control of those things – and I’ll do that for as long as I’m here.”
The Fulham game concluded the first half of the season. United have the longest league unbeaten run of any team in Europe’s top five divisions, and the club, which has kept five successive clean sheets, also has the best defence in the English top flight.
Newcastle won just one of their first 19 league games last season – and lost 10. This season, they have won 10 – and lost one.
The club, which is “light on numbers” in key positions, is over-achieving, and the question is whether United can continue to over-achieve with a squad ill-equipped for a top-four challenge.
“It's been a really good first half of the season for us,” said Howe. “We've improved from the start of the season to now. I think there's still more growth in the team to come.
“I'm very pleased with the players' commitment, and what they've delivered for the team and for me and the club, so I think we're in a good place.
“But the challenge only gets harder.”
Howe’s right, but this team, like Wor Flags, can keep on surprising people.