Eddie Howe is the right man for Newcastle United - but there's one thing he simply has to prove

It has been a season full of ups and downs for Newcastle United - but what does it mean for Eddie Howe?
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They were words that summoned up mixed emotions for Newcastle United supporters. Within two hours of the meek FA Cup exit at the hands of Manchester City, Magpies midfielder Bruno Guimaraes admitted his side had ‘ten games in the Premier League to save their season’. Some may think this was overplaying the situation, others will view it as brutal honesty and some may see it as a passionate player striving for higher standards from both himself and his team.

Summing up Newcastle’s season is full of complexity, consideration and contradiction. Their Champions League adventure brought a night for the ages in a 4-1 hammering of Paris Saint-Germain and a hearty draw in the San Siro against AC Milan. Yet there is a feeling the Magpies failed to make the most of what was a promising stage to their ‘Group of Death’ campaign, despite the hard luck story that played out with PSG’s late penalty in the 1-1 draw at the Parc des Princes.

Their Carabao Cup campaign was full of excitement and achievement after a rare win at Old Trafford as a much-changed Magpies side saw off Manchester United had come on the back of a hearty performance in a home win against Manchester City in the previous round. Yet once again, there was a feeling of what might have been as a late Kieran Trippier error allowed Chelsea to force a quarter-final tie to a penalty shoot-out that brought a heartbreaking end to hopes of a Wembley return.

The FA Cup brought further contrasting emotions after Howe became the first Newcastle manager since Alan Pardew to win a Wear-Tyne derby as Alexander Isak’s brace helped the Magpies to a 3-0 win in a third round tie at Sunderland. Geordie boys Sean Longstaff and Dan Burn scored in an impressive 2-0 win at Fulham and number two goalkeeper Martin Dubravka was the star man as Blackburn Rovers were seen off after a penalty shoot-out in a fifth round tie. But, again, there was disappointment, as Newcastle failed to force Manchester City out of first gear in Saturday’s quarter-final tie at the Etihad Stadium.

Bizarrely, stunning wins over the likes of Aston Villa, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea sit alongside disheartening defeats against Luton Town, Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth and Everton in a league record that somewhat sums up Newcastle’s struggle to find the consistency, intensity and rhythm that led Newcastle into the top four last season.

Newcastle United defender Dan Burn (left) and head coach Eddie Howe (right). (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)Newcastle United defender Dan Burn (left) and head coach Eddie Howe (right). (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Newcastle United defender Dan Burn (left) and head coach Eddie Howe (right). (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

There are mitigating factors. Eddie Howe and his coaching staff have endured a season-long battle with injuries that have limited his options on a regular basis. Sandro Tonali’s lengthy ban for breaking gambling regulations in Italy meant Howe has been without his marquee summer signing for the vast majority of the campaign and United’s well-versed struggle with the Premier League’s profit and sustainability regulations meant there was little room for manoeuvre in the January transfer window. Some will see excuses, some may see a defence, but these are genuine reasons why Newcastle have struggled to hit the levels they reached last season.

Howe should not and will not escape criticism. He has, at times, been too loyal to some players within his ranks - albeit sometimes that loyalty has been through necessity due to injuries. Although subtle changes have been made in formation during the season, there have been accusations of a lack of flexibility from Howe, something he denied in a recent press conference. Questionable decisions have been made to select players earlier than expected upon their return from injury - which seems to be a factor in Sven Botman’s struggle to replicate what was a remarkable first season in the Premier League.

There have some that have doubted Howe’s ability to force Newcastle into contention for major honours and a place in the Champions League on a regular basis. There is, perhaps, some merit in those calls given his lack of experience in challenging at the top table throughout his managerial career. There are doubts that Howe can attract the calibre of player Newcastle hope to bring in to take the next step in their development. There are awkward questions that will be answered when the Magpies hierarchy conduct a review of what has played out over the course of the season.

Ahead of the current campaign, Howe’s reign on Tyneside has been overwhelmingly successful. He took charge of a squad lacking in confidence, investment and direction and reinvigorated them as they roared away from the relegation zone to secure a mid-table finish. His first full season saw the former Bournemouth manager brought the best out of big money signings like Botman, Guimaraes and Isak to claim an unexpected fourth placed finish and led the Magpies to their first major cup final since 1999.

Some would argue - again with some justification - United are well ahead of schedule given the low base from which Howe took over and, as such, the current Magpies boss has already earned a chance to build on the foundations he has put in place during the first two years of his reign at St. James' Park. That is a theory that holds significant weight - but it also should come with a warning. There will, at some point, be a need for the Magpies hierarchy to show a ruthless side in the pursuit of success and understanding and patience will only last so long.

Howe is, more than likely, the right man for where Newcastle currently sit at this point in time - and now it’s down to him to prove he can be the manager that will try to take the Magpies to the next level on a more regular basis.

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