Isak fires Newcastle to within sight of Premier League top four

Isak fires Newcastle to within sight of Premier League top four
Isak fires Newcastle to within sight of Premier League top four

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Eddie Howe has Champions League in his sights — but won’t lose Premier League focus at Newcastle United

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe is refusing to be drawn on any talk of a Newcastle United return to Europe’s top table next season.

A win at Nottingham Forest this evening would see the Magpies climb to within one point of Tottenham Hotspur, who occupy the last of the Premier League’s Champions League spots — a competition the Geordies have not graced for almost two decades.

A decade outside of Europe altogether has fans’ appetite whetted, but while supporters get carried away with talk of continental adventure, head coach Howe remains grounded, knowing nothing short of Newcastle’s best in the final 13 games will guarantee nothing other than another season in the wilderness, even if Europe feels within touching distance.

“I’m going to duck the question,” said Howe when asked about whether Champions League football is possible for the Magpies.

“Of course it’s about what we do and people are obsessed with Europe, but for me it’s about being the best we can be every week and ultimately we will achieve what we deserve to achieve. It’s about the small steps not the end goal. That will take care of itself.”

Pushed further, Howe was asked when he’d start thinking about European football. He said: “At the end of the season.”

One thing that has become apparent in the second half of the campaign for Howe’s men is a lack of squad depth. Only Arsenal, who crashed out of the Europa League last night, heightening their title charge, have used less players in the top flight so far this campaign.

And while Howe has been loyal to his starters and leaders, he has had a lack of options when change is needed — and whether Europe is secured or not this season, he knows that situation needs to be addressed.

“I think hypothetically if we were in more competitions, absolutely we’d need to boost the squad in terms of depth,” he said.

“But of course quality, because there’s no point in having depth if the quality is not there, so you need both.”

One way in which the club are looking to bridge the gap to those above them is by bulking up their recruitment team. Newcastle are actively advertising for development scouts in South America, with Brazil a particular focus, as well as mainland Europe.

Howe approves of the moves. He said: “Your football club’s success depends on recruitment. It’s that important. Who you bring into your football club really dictates what happens afterwards.

“I’m not involved in the structure of how we set up those departments. That’s other people’s jobs, but I’ll certainly welcome any changes that are positive for what we do.”

At the City Ground, Newcastle will face a familiar foe, with January departure Jonjo Shelvey likely to line up in the center of midfield against the side where he spent seven years.

“There’s a hole in the squad left by his departure,” said Howe of Shelvey.

“He’s a big character, a big personality, with a lot of experience and that’s certainly something we will need at some stage to replace. Ideally we would not have lost that from the squad in the first place, but these things happen. Our midfield is light, as I’ve said before, and there’s a lot to be said for having Jonjo’s experience, general game management and know-how in your squad.”

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