The honeymoon's not over for Eddie Howe at Newcastle United – yet
Is the honeymoon over for Eddie Howe?
There were some boos from frustrated Newcastle United fans after the relegation-threatened club’s shock, and shocking, FA Cup defeat to Cambridge United yesterday.
The presence of chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan at St James’s Park had increased the pressure on Howe, who named a very strong starting XI for the third-round tie.
New signing Kieran Trippier started the game, which was sold out, along with Allan Saint-Maximin, Martin Dubravka and Ryan Fraser.
The only thing missing from the starting XI was a striker. And that’s the thing. Newcastle would surely have won this game had they had a striker up front – and Al-Rumayyan saw the need for a new one himself with Callum Wilson injured for eight weeks.
Howe’s team created a series of first-half chances, but they were thwarted by goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov, who was outstanding. There wasn’t much wrong with the performance in two thirds of the pitch, but in the final third, where it really mattered, Newcastle lacked conviction.
Jacob Murphy, lively when moved up front, was surprisingly taken off in the 60th minute following Cambridge’s goal, which was scored by Joe Ironside, a player who grew up idolising Alan Shearer.
Ironside gave Newcastle’s defence an uncomfortable afternoon, but Cambridge, sat deep, were comfortable in the latter part of the game.
Howe, also surprisingly, didn’t make use of the two extra substitutions afforded to him by this season’s FA Cup rules, and Elliot Anderson, a player who would have offered something different up front, stayed on the bench.
Joe Willock – who did make it off the bench – was particularly poor, though Howe said he couldn’t fault the “body language” and “attitude” of his players.
“I did think, all the way through, that the body language was good, and the attitude was good, from the players,” said Howe. “I’ve got no issue with that.”
Howe, certainly, will have learnt a lot about some of his players in the game, and that knowledge will inform him ahead of next Saturday’s Premier League game against Watford, a fixture the team simply has to win.
Performances have, undoubtedly, improved under Howe, but there hasn’t yet been the hoped-for upturn in results. The honeymoon isn’t over, but anything other than a win over Watford is unthinkable.