BRIGHTON: “We will bounce back.” The message from the Newcastle United boardroom is loud and clear.
Despite three losses in four Premier League games, the Magpies’ hierarchy are relaxed about coach Eddie Howe’s side’s current slump in form.
Within minutes of the final whistle sounding on England’s south coast, following a dismal 3-1 loss to Brighton, Newcastle co-owner Jamie Reuben had taken to X, formerly Twitter, to back Howe and his players. He also made sure to mention fellow co-owner Mehrdad Ghodoussi in the message.
“Not the result we wanted — thank you to the incredible @NUFC fans who travelled so far and made their voices heard throughout. Credit to @OfficialBHAFC. We will bounce back. #WeAreUnited@ghodoussi,” Reuben posted.
The speed at which the co-owner jumped to the defence of Howe and his struggling squad was not lost on the Magpies’ fanbase, who are justifiably asking serious questions about the team’s direction, following their third straight Premier League loss.
Hopes had been high this campaign, and optimism has largely reigned supreme on Tyneside.
From the inside stories of the Amazon documentary, to dreams of European away trips for the first time in more than a decade and a near $150 million transfer spend, the summer has been one of forward thinking. Sadly, performances on the pitch have not met the increased expectation.
It took until March for Howe’s men to lose three matches last season. This time around, they have done it in the first week of September. While no one is panicking yet, the clamour to book flights and hotels following the remarkable Champions League draw on Thursday evening sits rather strangely in a season when Newcastle are playing like a side who look nowhere near the best England has to offer on the European stage.
Forwards at Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund and AC Milan will certainly be licking their lips at the type of defending on show against Brighton, where Irish teenager Evan Ferguson bagged an impressive hat-trick before Callum Wilson added a consolation.
“I am very realistic. Of course, there are concerns when you are not winning and have lost three in a row. I am not naive to that,” said Howe, whose side’s next game, on Sept. 17, is at St James’ Park against Brentford.
“You have factors and reasons, the fixture list was very tough for us. My job is to be calm and analyse where we can better, then go to work on where we can get better.”
Howe continued: “(It was a) tough result for us. Could have been very different and in the early stages of the game we had some good chances. We didn’t take them and the goals we conceded especially the first were tough.
“I would probably say the first goal is key in any game. It dented our confidence, especially after last week. Not just the goal the manner of the goal was messy from our perspective.
“From then on the game was probably not the game we wanted it to be, the second goal. It came when we were fighting to get back into the game, the subs came on and made a difference and then out of nothing they score again.”
One area of criticism, highlighted by experts, pundits and fans alike, is the Newcastle midfield. This team, built on intensity, seems to have lost a little of what made it great last season, even with the addition of former AC Milan favorite Sandro Tonali.
“I think it’s in its infancy, that has to be noted,” said Howe, leaping to the defence of his central unit’s recent performances.
“I don’t think that’s necessarily a criticism of any one of those players but it’s a new-look midfield and that takes time to build the relationships where it’s automatic.”
The Magpies suffered another major injury blow with the news that Joe Willock, out since May with a hamstring problem, will miss at least another seven games with a new issue.
Willock was again absent from the United squad at the Amex Stadium, and will likely be unavailable until mid-October due to an Achilles injury, the second recovery setback the former Arsenal midfielder has suffered in the last four months.
“Individually they’re all top, top players. We’re missing Joe Willock who’s a big miss in terms of energy. Joey (Joelinton) declared himself fit yesterday but was not at 100 percent with the knee problem he had. There are mitigating circumstances,” Howe said.
“Joe’s had a bit of a setback with an Achilles injury. It’s not related to his hamstring problem so I think he’ll be missing for around six weeks.”
Reacting to his injury blow on Instagram, Willock posted: “I hate this, but God I love you and trust you … I am convinced I will bounce back stronger.”
Willock will likely miss Champions League Group F fixtures against AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund, as well as four Premier League encounters and a Carabao Cup third round clash with Manchester City.