There was to be no team photograph in the dressing room, but there was a lap of appreciation of a different kind at full-time. Whereas Newcastle United supporters had been used to serenading a winning side in all four of their previous home games, this time, thousands stayed behind to applaud the players off the field in defeat as they chanted: “Eddie Howe’s black-and-white army!” It was a timely show of support that gave the group a lift.
Kieran Trippier stressed: “We can’t let this result affect us” and it is now up to the players to bounce back as they so often have under Eddie Howe. This team never tend to get too high after a win or too low after a defeat and that measured response will never be important with just four games to go in the race for the Champions League.
“I don’t doubt the quality and the character,” Howe told reporters. “The character is there. It’s been there. It’s been evident to me.
“There’s no time for negativity or for me to lose control emotionally. It’s time for a focus on the future with four games to go.
“It can be a really memorable season for us. It’s in our hands. If anyone had said at the start of the season we could be in this position, you would have definitely wanted to be in our position. Getting over the line will probably be the hardest thing we have and that is the challenge in front of us.”
That perspective is key. Not only did Manchester United fail to leapfrog Newcastle into third, after falling to a 1-0 defeat at West Ham on Sunday night, the Magpies remain three points clear of Liverpool with a game in hand and superior goal difference to boot.
This was also just Newcastle’s fifth league defeat of the season and Howe’s team have never previously let painful afternoons disrupt their season. After losing the Carabao Cup final in February, for instance, Newcastle won five of their next six games. Following a 3-0 defeat at Aston Villa last month, the black-and-whites hammered Spurs 6-1 before going on to beat Everton and Southampton.
A similar response against Leeds United on Saturday would see Newcastle take a giant step towards qualifying for the Champions League, which is all the incentive Howe’s team need. Newcastle will certainly need to manage their emotions, though, at a hostile Elland Road after Sunday’s game against Arsenal turned following an eighth-minute flashpoint.
Newcastle were on top when the hosts were awarded a penalty by referee Chris Kavanagh after Bruno Guimaraes’ shot struck the arm of Jakub Kiwior. However, following a lengthy VAR check, Kavanagh reversed his decision to the visible frustration of Newcastle players, who did not know the ball struck the Arsenal defender’s thigh first.
Howe acknowledged that there was a ‘feeling of injustice, whether it was right or wrong’, and it was Arsenal who were given a shot in the arm. Martin Odegaard duly opened the scoring just a few minutes later after Newcastle were punished for uncharacteristically switching off.
Newcastle only grew more exasperated by the way Arsenal disrupted the hosts’ rhythm and ran down the clock thereafter at crucial moments in the game. It brought back memories of what Newcastle did to Arsenal in the reverse fixture at the Emirates but, also, how Leeds United got under the Magpies’ skin at St James’ back in January.
By the closing stages of that goalless draw, on New Year’s Eve, Newcastle’s frustrations showed after goalkeeper Illan Meslier took his time getting back up to his feet, sparking a brawl between both sets of players. After the game, Howe bemoaned how a ‘cool head is always important’. Cool heads will certainly be needed on Saturday.
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