The ‘outrageous’ Newcastle United question that Eddie Howe won’t answer

There’s a question that Eddie Howe just won’t answer.

And it’s unlikely that he’ll answer it any time soon, however well his team does on the field.

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The club is fourth in the Premier League, ahead of Manchester United and Chelsea in fifth and sixth place respectively, ahead of Sunday’s game against Southampton at the St Mary’s Stadium.

Newcastle, 20th in the division after 13 games last season, have made quicker-than-expected progress under Howe.

The club was looking to break into the top 10 following an 11th-placed finish in the 2021/22 campaign, and fans are now wondering if the club could go much further by qualifying for Europe. Bookmakers, tellingly, have priced Howe’s side at 5/2 for a top-four finish.

Howe, in recent weeks, has been asked about his team’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League. Each time, Howe has chosen to stress that his focus is solely on the next game.

As supporters chanted about a return to Europe outside the stadium, Howe was asked if United were Champions League contenders after Saturday’s convincing 4-0 win over Aston Villa. The 44-year-old smiled, and said: “That’s an outrageous question!”

Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe applauds fans after the Aston Villa win on Saturday.

Journalists in the stadium’s media suite were then given a familiar answer by Howe.

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“We’re just happy where we are,” said Howe. “We’re trying to win every game. I’ll let you write the headlines. For me, it’s keeping the players very level, very driven to try and win the next game.”

It seems inconceivable that the prospect of a top-six finish hasn’t been considered and discussed by Howe and his staff behind closed doors.

If Newcastle can continue to over-achieve, and one or more of last season’s top six under-achieve, then a European place would be there for the taking, as it was in the 2011/12 campaign when Alan Pardew guided the club to a fifth-placed finish.

Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe and his players after the Aston Villa win on Saturday.
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Pardew, incidentally, had privately mapped out a possible route to a European place the season before, though he didn’t want to speak about it publicly. In the event, his team’s challenge fell away.

Howe, for his part, wants to keep his players focused and “driven” – and his reluctance to say any more, for now, is understandable.