Newcastle United squad truth as Howe keeps quiet about club’s limitations and diehards applaud

Newcastle United boss Eddie Howe did not make any excuses after his side were beaten 2-0 at Crystal Palace.

Make no doubt about it, United were poor and complacency looked like it had crept in at times but after an improved run of form this looked like Howe’s team struggled to find answers on a tough night. There’s no excuses and some players could be on borrowed time with a big summer shake up required, but by the same token there are a clutch of players who are close to coming to the end of their natural cycle, and some of the failings at Selhurst Park are inevitable.

Howe probably knows those but can’t dip into the transfer market between now and the end of May and must continue to try to motivate a patched up team. His next team sheet and formation will be interesting.

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Last season Howe’s team punched way above their weight to secure Champions League football and then went one step further to beat Paris St-Germain and then almost scrape out of the “group of death” to continue that fairytale. But there should be no escaping from where Newcastle really are as they edge towards the third anniversary of the Saudi-backed takeover.

Unlike Abu Dhabi United Group-owned Manchester City, Newcastle have not been able to splash the cash in the same way because of PSR rules and the FFP handbook. They have not been able to burn through cheque after cheque and deliver a trophy in the first three years like Manchester City, and the truth is they will surely not – like the Citizens – be delivering a Premier League title in year four either.

Hamstrung by the harsh guidelines and threatened by the very real prospect of points deductions which have dented Everton and Nottingham Forest, Newcastle must be realistic about where they are.

And as they sit in seventh spot with five games to go, they are probably close to where they should be as they blend star signings with a clutch of players who were originally signed to help the team stay in the top-flight. That Eddie Howe has dealt with both a gruelling schedule and a chronic injury list this season but still finds himself in with a shout of a European place should be applauded if anything.

When Rafa Benitez left Newcastle because of a lack of ambition in 2019 he did so knowing that squad had done well to stay in the Premier League. But at Crystal Palace last night, six of that squad were on the team sheet.

Newcastle actually signed the likes of Emil Krafth, who was a big target for critics last night, Jacob Murphy and Callum Wilson to stay in the Premier League, not challenge for European football. Where Newcastle are now would have been unthinkable not so long ago and that shouldn’t be forgotten if anybody does stray into the “I want it at the touch of a button” mentality.

By any team’s standards, this is a slow churn of players, and Howe named 10 players out of his 20-man match day squad from players he inherited. Yes, Newcastle have spent £400million since the takeover but Kieran Trippier, Nick Pope, Sven Botman, Sandro Tonali and Matt Targett were all unavailable at Palace, and even pre-takeover signings Joe Willock, Joelinton and Miguel Almiron were at home nursing injuries.

Yet Howe stayed quiet about that after the defeat to Palace. Instead, he focused on the here and now and we can’t make a full assessment or judgement on this squad until the season is completely over.

Nobody is disguising that Newcastle were poor at Palace and Howe was the first to admit that his team must take “responsibility” for the defeat. But after the season United have endured, many teams and dare I say it managers would have opted for the easy option and dialled the campaign down to one to write off because of injuries.

Well, try telling this lot that with five games to go. Putting aside last season’s achievements, getting into Europe will be massive this season.

Will it be celebrated wildly? That’s hard to say.

Back in 1994, supporters of a certain vintage will take you back to a 2-0 defeat at Sheff United almost 30 years ago. Despite the defeat the celebrations in the away end that day were off the scale, and I know because I was there.

Despite the defeat, Arsenal’s home loss to West Ham that afternoon meant that Newcastle were back in Europe for the first time since the 1970s. Finishing fourth last season was one thing, but if Newcastle manage a Europa League. or Europa Conference League place this season it will be some achievement.

Whether it’s celebrated, cherished or savoured is another matter. But Howe will have done it with a squad less equipped than Brighton, Chelsea, West Ham, big-spending Bournemouth and a Wolves side that have spent millions.

Understandably as expectations grow and Newcastle move into new territory on the global football map, it’s easy to lose sight of where United have come from. But the diehards who braved a chilly night in Croydon clapped their side off the field still last night as they know the back story to where Newcastle once were.

Perhaps the famous Steve Jobs quote applies to Newcastle United right now. Jobs once said: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

And when Newcastle players, officials and fans look back on this season, it could arguably be one of the more special ones. It was at the end of the 1993/94 season that Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers resulted in fans drinking the old Bigg Market dry.

If that European place is secured this season, it’s hard to see that type of night unfolding again, but many a glass on Tyneside could be raised if Geordie fans are dusting down their passports for a second season running.

We can be frustrated and disappointed about last night and criticism is allowed. But a healthy dose or realism is also required too.

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