Eddie Howe has backed Newcastle United fans to become the club’s main weapon in their battle to climb the Premier League ranks.
The Magpies looked set to finish the season in and around the top-flight bottom three, but have dragged themselves out of trouble and now have an outside chance of sneaking into the top half on the final day of the season.
It’s been a remarkable turnaround from the rudderless club that started the campaign with Mike Ashley at the helm, Steve Bruce in the dugout, no wins in 14 games and fans becoming ever more disillusioned with their own club.
Fast forward seven months from the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia buyout and things couldn’t be more different.
St. James’ Park on Monday night, for the 2-0 victory over Arsenal, was the epitome of that. Awash with color, energy and noise, the famous old ground truly was an assault on the senses with the biggest ever display by fan-funded Wor Flags on show, owners showing their love for the club on the pitch and fans and players responding on a white-hot Tyneside evening.
Howe said: “That’s a huge weapon for us. We have to use as much as we can.
“We have to inspire our crowd, we have to have the supporters come to the ground desperate to see us play and desperate to know what’s going to happen in the match and almost guarantee a team that’s going all out to win the game by playing the way we want too.
“You saw that from the team (on Monday), we were very front foot but not just for fragmented sections of the game but near enough the whole match. An amazing physical effort from the players but a very high delivery of our tactical game plan as well. You have to compliment the group on that.”
For fans, the feeling is that Howe’s first six months at Newcastle could not have really gone any better. He was brought in primarily to save the club from the drop to the Championship, but has managed to do so while developing the side into a much more defensively sound and attractive attacking unit. As a result, Howe was nominated for the Premier League manager of the year, although he’s likely, and probably deservedly, set to be pipped at the post by Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp.
On progress, Howe said: “Of course it could have gone better in certain games and certain moments. When you look back as a whole, you’d have said this will be the outcome and this is how you’ll achieve safety in the division, certainly I would have been surprised if you told me that would happen.
“The group have risen in confidence levels through positive results and the feel of the stadium, they’ve responded to that. It’s been great to see and be part of.
“The group is very close. The dynamic is very good, the players not in the 25-man squad, the players that didn’t play regularly, have been incredibly supportive to the guys that have. There’s been healthy competition in the squad and a very good dynamic, which has certainly helped.”
Meanwhile, Howe has provided a fitness update of three Newcastle United first-team players ahead of their final game of the Premier League season on Sunday, at Burnley’s Turf Moor.
Fabian Schar was forced off midway through the second half of the Arsenal win due to a concussion, while Javier Manquillo and Chris Wood were absent from the squad altogether.
“Fabian, I think, is OK. He was taken off due to protocols,” said Howe. “He wanted to stay on but I think it was the right decision.”
“Manquillo has chicken pox, so that’s why he missed out. Chris Wood had a hip problem, which we hope isn’t too serious.”