Fragile Newcastle are limping towards the first Tyne-Wear derby for almost eight years this weekend mired in a confidence crisis. The one-sided 4-2 defeat at Liverpool on New Year’s Day exposed further cracks ahead of an FA Cup third round tie of profound regional significance.
Newcastle have now lost seven of their last eight games if you include the penalty shoot-out exit in the Carabao Cup to Chelsea and manager Eddie Howe recognises the psychological spin his side are in.
“The players are human beings so naturally I think we’re not at our most confident currently and I think we have to do everything we can to protect that confidence because it is such an important thing whenever you play,” said Howe.
“I think we have to be not over-reactive and not over-dramatise things – we have a huge game to come in the next few days and I just think all our energy and resources have to go towards that.
“My message to the players afterwards was that there is no point over-analysing what had just happened – we will do that over the next couple of days – but for the players they have to look forward to Sunderland. We know how important the game is for the city, for the supporters, for us in our season so all our energies are going towards that.”
So look forwards, not back but that is easier said than done when things have been unravelling as badly as they have been at St James’ Park.
The momentum of the Saudi takeover has stalled. From the fourth-place finish in the Premier League last season which propelled them into the Champions League, Newcastle are languishing in ninth. Just as worryingly they are looking like a mid-table side too.
It is Howe’s first rough patch since he arrived at the club two years ago and he is pinning it firmly at the door of a long injury list to which captain Kieran Trippier (groin) and striker Callum Wilson (calf) are the most recent additions.
“I don’t want to sit and make excuses but we do have half our team out which is a reality and that will make a difference,” said Howe. “You talk to any team in the Premier League and you take half their team away and you’re going to notice that over a month where you are playing every three days. I think we have been put in a tough spot. The big thing I look for is the commitment and effort of the players. Is that there? Yes. And as long as we have that we will be fine.”