NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has warned his players to expect a walk into the lion’s den when they take on relegation-threatened Everton in the Premier League.
The Magpies travel to Goodison Park on Thursday looking to cement their spot in the leading four of the top flight following their 6-1 demolition of Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
And while this encounter looks a whole lot easier than the last on paper, head coach Howe is mindful of two key factors in the game.
The return of midfielder Anthony Gordon, likely to start on the bench, will no doubt witness tensions running high among Scousers. Youngster Gordon was hounded out of Goodison when Everton’s results took a nosedive, seeing his car pursued and vandalized by supporters.
Howe also knows what an emotionally charged night at Goodison feels like, having seen his side slip up there this time last year, due to a 99th-minute winner from Alex Iwobi.
Howe said: “It’s very difficult for me to comment on how he [Gordon] left because I’m not party to what happened and what went on. I can only really comment on the player that I’ve seen and he’s been very, very good, trained really well. As I’ve said many times, [he’s] very passionate, wants to achieve, wants to do really well in his career.
“What happened at Everton, I can’t really comment on, but he’s fine. He’s in a good place and he’s looking forward to the game.”
Howe admits he is mindful of what impact the atmosphere can have, not only on Gordon but the rest of his Magpies squad.
He added: “It’s all about staying very present and not thinking too much. Just play the game — which is easier said than done in that environment where probably all eyes will be, he’ll feel, focused on him.
“I don’t want it to become a big talking point in the game. For me, it’s not important. It’s important for Anthony and it’s important that he comes through the game in a good way, but what’s important is that the team functions and we show our best selves.”
Howe has decided to rotate his team when the games have come thick and fast in the past, and Gordon could be an unexpected beneficiary of that policy.
“It’s me trying to pick the best team to win the game, whether that includes Anthony or not,” he said.
“It’s not about Anthony having to prove anything to Everton — that would be the wrong way of looking at it.
“I have to pick a team that I think has the best tools to hurt them. I will always take the emotion out of the decision; you can never pick a team based on one player or what it might do for them.”
Sections of Newcastle’s fanbase have questioned whether Howe was right to sign Gordon in January, the club’s only major signing since last summer.
The youngster has struggled in the games he has started. His appearances off the bench have been more positive, although he is yet to produce or score a goal.
Howe admits: “I don’t think we have seen the best of Anthony Gordon. There is more to come from him.
“We have seen glimpses of potential, glimpses of what he can do. Going back to the Manchester City game, there were moments there. There was a moment on Sunday when he nearly scored and showed his pace on transition. He has got so many qualities. Putting it all together for 90 minutes, we have not seen that yet.
“January transfers are incredibly difficult. An individual [is] joining a new team [and a] totally new way of playing. For a young player to adjust to, that isn’t easy. I am really pleased with him and I know he will be a high-quality player for us in the future, and I know he is going to be the right signing for us because of the way he has reacted to the move.”
Regarding injuries, the game has again come around too soon for Allan Saint-Maximin, who is more likely to return against Southampton on Sunday.
Fabian Schar is viewed as a doubt, while Bruno Guimaraes’ fitness is also an issue.
Howe, who might also be tempted to rotate goalscoring duo Alexander Isak and Callum Wilson, said: “We’ve got a couple of knocks. Bruno, we think, will be OK, no problems. Fabian is one that we’ll have to check, and make a late call on. Same situation with a couple of other lads.”
On Brazilian Guimaraes’ problems, Howe added: “There’s obviously a slight issue there where he’s twisted his ankle initially and it was quite a nasty injury.
“When he has an action in a game, whether there’s a kick or a twist, there’s a slight bit of pain in his ankle for a period of time, then it settles down quickly.
“He’s in consultation with the medical team. He went through a two-week spell where it didn’t bother him at all but obviously aggravated on Sunday. We don’t see it being a long-term problem but that’s for the medical team and Bruno to hopefully find a solution.”