Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe doesn't opt for easy excuse
Yes, Newcastle United had bossed the game against Everton for 45 minutes.
But Howe was quick to acknowledge that it was a very different story after the break at Goodison Park, where Alex Iwobi netted in the 99th minute to give the home side a 1-0 win.
Howe’s players, set for a warm weather training camp in Dubai, now have a 16-day gap between fixture in which they can pick themselves up and prepare for the April 3 fixture against Tottenham Hotspur.
The defeat had followed a loss to Chelsea by the same scoreline five days earlier.
United were incensed by two refereeing decisions at Stamford Bridge, but this time, in Howe’s view, there was no one else to blame.
“We’re not safe, and we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said a stony-faced Howe at his post-match press conference.
“That’s why this really hurts from our perspective, because we pride ourselves on giving our best and delivering a really good performance.
“I just don’t think it was there today, and we need to look at why.”
Newcastle had taken control of the game after a frenetic start at Goodison Park, where they were backed by 3,000 fans. Bruno Guimaraes, making his third start, had used the ball well in midfield, and Everton struggled to get close to their visitors.
United, however, weren’t the same after a long stoppage at the start of the first half.
And Howe admitted that his players had “lost too many duels”.
“It was second half where I felt we lost the control of the game we had, we weren’t as composed,” said Howe. “The solution for that is clear. We have to improve individually. We lost too many duels in the second half, which is hugely disappointing, because you know those individual battles win you games.”
It was the third away game in the space of eight days, but physical fatigue, in Howe’s view, wasn’t a factor. It would have been easy for Howe to blame tiredness, but, to his credit, he didn’t use it as an excuse.
“I don’t think you can ever use that as a reason,” said Howe, who is taking his injured players to Dubai, where they could play a training game to top up their fitness.
“Yes, the players have been in a tough period of games, and yes, there’s probably been a bit of mental fatigue from the amount of away games we’ve had in a row, but we can’t use that as an excuse.
“We have to look at ourselves, and find the reason why.”
Howe and his players have some time for self-reflection. Howe will debrief his squad fully after watching the game back.
For 45 minutes at Goodison Park, Newcastle weren’t good enough with or without the ball, and the break has probably come at a good time for a team which has had a tough couple of months.
United remain nine points short of the Premier League’s traditional 40-point safety mark with nine games left to play – and Howe knows his team can’t afford to come up short too many more times this season.