Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Newcastle have had a 'shot ahead of schedule' with top-four finish – Eddie Howe

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Newcastle boss Eddie Howe has admitted that Champions League qualification was not even in his thoughts as he started the new Premier League campaign.

A 0–0 draw against Leicester saw the Magpies secure a top-four finish and return to the majors for the first time since the 2002–03 season.

When Howe took charge in November 2021, he was in grave danger of relegation but will now shoulder to shoulder with the continent’s elite next season.

A pleased Howe said: “It was not in our sight at the time. We were effectively saved from relegation, given the position we were in.”

“We were hopeful of improving and moving away from danger and getting the team into a position where maybe we can compete for Europe in a few seasons, so we have shot ahead of time.

“With that comes great challenges for the future, but when you’re in these moments and there’s an opportunity to do something like this, you have to take it.”

The club’s Saudi-backed owners have invested over £250 million in the team since buying Mike Ashley, but have received an earlier than anticipated return on their investment.

Where we’ve come in such a short time is an amazing achievement, an amazing thing

Eddie Howe

Newcastle reached the final of the Carabao Cup in February only to lose to Manchester United at Wembley, but that should not deny them a place in Europe’s top table.

Howe said: “The difficulty is that there is no trophy. Where we’ve come in such a short period of time is an amazing achievement, an amazing thing.

“But it feels hard to celebrate like you’ve won a league or something like that. It’s up there, of course it is. It’s amazing to be in a very exclusive club.

Asked how he would celebrate, Howe smiled and said: “I don’t know how I’ll celebrate. I’ll wait and see. I hope it’s not with tea and biscuits.”

St James’ Park was booming at the final whistle and Howe, his staff and players performed laps of honour, although the mood in the Leicester camp was very different.

The Foxes are two points from safety, although a win over West Ham on Saturday and a draw at home to Bournemouth to Everton will keep them on goal difference.

He did not have a shot until stoppage time, when Magpies goalkeeper Nick Pope denied Timothy Casten’s volley a precious victory, but boss Dean Smith was defiant on his safety-first approach.

Smith said: “I have no regrets for the way we’ve set up today. We haven’t kept a clean sheet in a very long time and that’s the reason we’re where we are, in my opinion.

“My mind was made up when I saw Newcastle play Brighton on Thursday, one of the best football teams in the Premier League this year, Brighton, and in that first 20, 25 minutes, they steamrolled them.

“We had to keep a clean sheet and hope, because we had to sacrifice today with our team sheet and hope that we were still in the game.

“It almost worked out to plan, but the goalkeeper made a really good save in the 90th minute, which was our only shot, I think.

“If it’s too little, too late, who knows? But we’ve got it down to Sunday now.