NEWCASTLE: Persuading key man Joelinton to pen a new Newcastle United deal is a “priority” for Eddie Howe, even with chief negotiator Dan Ashworth out of the Magpies’ exit door.
The Brazilian has been a huge miss in the Newcastle midfield since he suffered a thigh injury in the FA Cup third-round win over local rivals Sunderland. Joelinton went under the knife on Jan. 23 to rectify the issue, and is not expected back until May.
On the eve of Newcastle’s fifth-round tie at Championship Blackburn Rovers — who, like Howe’s men, have won the trophy six times — the team’s head coach has been discussing his desire to see the Brazilian stay on Tyneside, even with sporting director Ashworth on gardening leave, with Manchester United his desired destination.
“That’s always been in my mind as an absolute priority, to try to get him to stay at the club long term. I see that as hugely important,” Howe said of Joelinton, whose current Magpies’ deal runs out in the summer of 2025.
“I think we’ve missed Joe’s qualities, especially physically, his robustness, his abilities in duels, set-plays for and against. We’re very lucky to have a midfielder that’s as big as he is and as competitive as he is and whenever you lose those qualities, you notice when they’re not there.
“He’s a very unusual midfielder, really, a prototype. You don’t get many like him and it’s certainly been missed, what he can bring.”
When asked who will fill Ashworth’s role in taking up the contract talks, Howe said: “I think it’ll be a mixture of Darren Eales and probably Amanda (Staveley) and Mehrdad (Ghodoussi).”
While attentions turn to the pursuit of silverware and the temporary distraction of the cup, Newcastle’s Premier League form has been starkly different to anything seen under Howe for 18 months. Long gone are the weeks of endless points, a firm backline and wins galore, a trend which had followed Newcastle from their avoidance of relegation in 2021/22 into their Champions League-qualifying campaign of 2022/23.
Mixing with Europe’s best, at this moment in time, feels like a lifetime ago, even though their last Champions League clash with giants AC Milan was only two months back. Since then, the Magpies’ form has dropped through the floor, mainly underpinned by an increasingly leaky backline and, of course, injury issues, which are thankfully starting to be less of a burden.
Howe’s team have the worst defensive record in England’s top flight in the calendar year. Across the season just the bottom three, Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth have conceded more goals. It is something all associated with the club know needs to be addressed — and sharpish.
“We are still in the throes of deciding where this season ends up. Nothing is decided for or against us. I definitely want to squash that feeling that we are feeling sorry for ourselves because that has negative connotations,” said the head coach.
“We need the players excited and ambitious, thinking brightly about the future. I always have a positive outlook. I’ve been in football long enough that it changes very quickly both for and against.
“This season has been very challenging. When you start the season it could be one thing but there have been so many scenarios that have happened that have led us to this point. But I think we will be better for it. The squad will be better for it, we will be better for it and the thought we could have had another season where everything seemed to go for us again, that very rarely happens in football. It’s how you navigate the situation and come back better.”
When pushed specifically on Newcastle’s defensive record — they have conceded 45 goals in just 26 games in the Premier League — Howe said: “Yes, of course we’re looking for solutions to everything.
“There’d be sort of the outcome which is the goals, of course, but there’s a whole body of work that goes into how you defend. Whether that’s how you press, how you defend in the mid-third of the pitch, how you defend toward the goal. Certainly we need to do a better job.
“I think regardless of how you tactically set up, it’s individuals doing their jobs and making sure you don’t make individual errors. I think we’ve been guilty of a combination of a lot of those things in the last few weeks.
“We’ve proved we can defend, we’ve proved we can defend even recently and we’ve put in some really good performances. Certainly we’re capable but we just need to deliver it consistently.”
Newcastle will be backed by more than 7,000 supporters on Tuesday night in Lancashire, with a Geordie invasion of Ewood Park in store. The Magpies have not won the competition since 1955, but can put themselves just one game away from a Wembley semifinal with victory.
“It’s a huge game for us,” said Howe. “We’re absolutely committed to the FA Cup to do well and have been all season. We’ve had two difficult games away from home to get to this stage, and now another one. We’ve been looking forward to this game for a while so we know how important it is.
“There have been performances where we’ve not been at our best and you can understand — we were disjointed, had players out of position, no substitutes, relying on 11 players continually. Arsenal (a 4-1 loss on Saturday) was different. We just did not perform and we have to take responsibility for that.
“Qualifying for Europe is right at the top of our priorities. Of course, qualifying for the Champions League was unbelievable last year. But if you can’t make that again, then we have to look for the next best alternative. That’s what we’re trying to do, and for me, they’re (Europa League and Conference League) realistic objectives, and we’ll give everything we can to achieve it. I think, for the football club, to try to qualify regularly for Europe is an achievement in itself, and that’s something we’re looking to do.
“We don’t want to be easy to play against; we want to be very difficult to play against. We didn’t execute what we wanted to do against Arsenal well enough, that’s clear. That’s clear from the performance and I take responsibility for that.”