Newcastle looked doomed to almost certain relegation when Eddie Howe took over in November. But in the end they achieved safety with games to spare. How has he done it?
When Mike Ashley sold Newcastle United to the Saudi investment fund last October, there were immediate questions.
First were the moral questions asked about the new owners, and second was whether the manager – Steve Bruce – would be kept on.
“After a brief ten minute conversation with the new owners where we talked about the team and we talked about injuries and we talked about the training ground and we talked about…it was very, very informal. I just said carry on…I’ll carry on until I hear otherwise.”Sky Sports News
Steve Bruce did hear otherwise. His employment with Newcastle was terminated by mutual consent just five days after that press conference.
The media also talked about the possibility of the club’s new owners immediately investing vast sums of money in the playing squad.
But there was a problem. Newcastle looked doomed to be relegated to the Championship.
They were rock bottom of the Premier League, having failed to win any of their opening 12 games under Steve Bruce. They’d earned just six points.
Who would take on this Mission Impossible?
Eddie Howe accepted it.
Steve Bruce had described him as the “fella from Bournemouth who got a team relegated.”
Others were sceptical too.
“If probably say if they’re gonna sack the manager, I’d say Eddie Howe but…”
“Hold on, hold on, hold on…Jack!”
“He’s gone…the first Newcastle caller we get goes academy investment and…Eddie Howe!”
“Jack, Jack…I know this is probably hard to understand and grasp but you’re one of…you could be one of the richest clubs in world football…OK? OK, you probably will be, right? And you want Eddie?…Look no disrespect, I like Eddie Howe. But come on Jack…”Talksport
After two games, Eddie Howe’s Newcastle had drawn one and lost one. Not much improvement on Steve Bruce’s performance.
And no team in Premier League history had ever escaped the drop after failing to win their first 14 games before.
“I mean they’re six points from safety, not playing well…it’s all well saying let’s get to January, but you could be cut adrift…and as you say, who is going to go? It’s difficult trying to get people to go to the North East anyway, never mind if you’re in a relegation battle.”Sky Sports News
But now, they’ve achieved that 40 point mark necessary for survival with apparent ease. There will be no nail-biting end to the season for Newcastle.
They did make some signings in the January window, but there were none of the big name arrivals that were being mentioned in the press.
Perhaps the most famous new hire was Kieran Trippier from Atletico Madrid, but he picked up a serious injury soon after his debut for Newcastle.
So how exactly has Eddie Howe done it?
First of all, it’s only fair to say that while Newcastle didn’t bring in any global football superstars in the January window, the controversial new owners did spend £92 million.
That’s the largest ever winter spend in the Premier League.
And Eddie Howe targeted the right type of players to make his system work. As he says, the process began with discipline.
“Well I think we came in with a clear plan of what we needed to do, we needed to first become hard to beat. I think you’ve got to get the basics right. So we spent a lot of time working on our shape and drilling the players in certain aspects of play.”NBC Sports
Through those methods, he’s improved the form of the existing players.
Brazilian Joelinton is perhaps the best example of the kind of transformation that Eddie Howe has made.
Joelinton played as a striker before the new boss arrived. He’d scored twice in his first season on Tyneside and only four times in his second year.
Here’s what Steve Bruce had to say about him.
“…Joelinton. He’s taken a lot of criticism in front of goal…”
“Well I know what it’s like to take some criticism and certainly Joe takes it and I think he’s got a resilience about him where he’s gonna stay with it. Look, we know he’s had a tough time…”Football Daily
Yet Eddie Howe recognised a different quality in Joelinton. An ability to play in a deeper, midfield role.
After a Man of the Match winning performance in a 1-1 draw with Manchester United, Eddie Howe said that Joelinton’s technical ability suited the new role, and that he took to it with few instructions.
“He had the most touches for Newcastle, won the most tackles with two, made three interceptions, made the most ball recoveries, won the most fouls, won the most aerial duels and completed the most passes.”Route One
It’s not just Joelinton that’s been revitalised.
Eddie Howe has given the side an identity, hard-working, pressuring and pressing. They look to steal the ball back quickly from the opposition and make quick counter-attacks.
It’s about making the most of their time on the ball. Newcastle have the second-lowest amount of possession in the league, yet they take the seventh-highest number of shots per game on average.
So, Eddie Howe has done it. He’s defied the critics – and the statistics – and kept Newcastle up.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens when he’s handed more money to spend on transfers this summer.
Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford and mixed by Matt Russell.