Eddie Howe’s message to Newcastle United fans ahead of Carabao Cup semi-final tie v Southampton
An eagerly anticipated night lies in wait at St James Park as United look to reach only their second ever League Cup final.
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Newcastle United was a hive of activity 12 months ago as the final day of the transfer window arrived with a mixture of excitement and anticipation enveloping the club.
Just a week earlier, Eddie Howe’s side had taken the first tentative steps in their bid to avoid relegation as Jonjo Shelvey’s free-kick gave them an invaluable three points on a nervy afternoon at Leeds United.
The final week of the window proved to be equally productive as Bruno Guimaraes, Dan Burn and Matt Targett arrived to bolster a squad that had been boosted by the signings of Kieran Trippier and Chris Wood two weeks earlier. What followed set records as Howe’s side cantered away from the relegation zone, leaving any thoughts of life in the Championship firmly behind them by the time Arsenal were rolled over in the penultimate game of the season.
Champions League, rather than the Championship, is now a genuine prospect for United as they sit firmly in the top four, enjoying the rarified air alongside the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal as they await Saturday’s home clash with West Ham United. First and foremost, Wembley is on the horizon, as Howe and his players look to secure the Magpies first major cup final appearance since 1999 when Southampton arrive at Tyneside for the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final on Tuesday night.
“I think it’s really important that you’re resilient”
Belief, understandably, is at a high as Howe’s men put the finishing touches to their preparations for what is one of the most eagerly anticipated nights at St James Park since the likes of Barcelona and Inter Milan ran out at Gallowgate in the Champions League.
Speaking of the change in fortunes ahead of the meeting with the Saints, Howe said: “I think naturally you need to win to believe. Sometimes in football, I’ve been in situations where you are urging people to believe, whether that’s players, media or supporters, and you are doing it against a backdrop of no results. That is a lot harder.
“It doesn’t mean you can’t get through that time because I think it’s really important that you’re resilient and you don’t necessarily change your beliefs. Certainly winning helps get everyone on board and believe you’re doing the right things.”
“It is going to be potentially a season defining game”
Given their respective fortunes in the Premier League, it should be no surprise Newcastle head into Tuesday night’s second leg as firm favourites to convert their first leg advantage into a first Wembley appearance since Ruud Gullit and Alan Shearer led the Magpies into a 2-0 defeat against Manchester United in the final FA Cup Final of the 20th century.
Some have suggested progressing into the Carabao Cup Final could give Howe’s players a boost that would translate into a successful push for a return to the Champions League, with others stating a defeat against the Saints could bring the season crashing down.
Howe, just as he has for the majority of the season, remains measured in his approach to the tie.
“I don’t think it will make or break our season because we have another game after this and huge games ahead,” he explained.
“But saying that, we know how important it is for us to try and keep positivity, forward momentum and excitement so we would love to progress. So it is going to be potentially a season defining game although we are not trying to focus on it that way. We are trying to focus on a match where we want to excel and do our best in and that method has served us so well up to this point.”
“We want to express ourselves”
Keen to strike the right note with his players on what will be a nervy night on Tyneside, Howe has insisted his approach will be to ignore the narrow lead given to his side by Joelinton’s second-half strike at St Mary’s seven days ago.
Any other approach would mean trouble, according to the Magpies boss.
“You have to look at it as an independent game. Yes, we have a 1-0 lead but if you focus on that too much before the game, or that becomes part of your psychology, then you’re in trouble. You go into protection mode and we don’t want that, we want to express ourselves in the game and we have to look at it as a league game.”
“The spectacle St James Park brings pre-game is a thing of beauty”
Newcastle’s run to the final four of the competition has largely been played out in front of boisterous atmospheres at St James Park as the likes of Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Leicester City were all vanquished.
The latter of those ties brought raucous scenes at the Magpies famous old home as goals from Dan Burn and Joelinton set off a scramble for semi-final tickets after a 2-0 win against Brendan Rodgers’ side.
With supporters group ‘Wor Flags’ preparing another memorable display and calling for United fans to bring scarves to the game to evoke emotional memories of Alan Shearer’s testimonial, Howe is anticipating an exuberant atmosphere and revealed the impact it will make on both himself and his players.
“Absolutely, I’m happy for flags and scarves,” he said.
“The spectacle St James Park brings pre-game is a thing of beauty for me when I step out on to the touchline for the first time. It always inspires me and I know the players feel the same way. Hopefully it can be that sort of atmosphere again.”