'Hope so' - Newcastle United star ruled out of 17 games could make return v Bournemouth, Arsenal or Blackburn
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The 24-year-old has been limited to just six appearances this campaign having missed the start with an Achilles injury before suffering a recurrence of the same issue in November.
Willock is into the final stages of his recovery, and while Howe is unable to put a definite timescale on when the midfielder will return, he is hopeful of a comeback this month, where United will have AFC Bournemouth, Arsenal and Blackburn Rovers to play.
Howe said: "Joe hasn’t trained with the group yet but is working really hard with the sports science team.
"It’s an Achilles tendon injury. His initial injury was a hamstring, and he recovered from that fine. Then he picked up the Achilles injury. Anyone who has had those injuries knows how difficult they can be to manage. The medical team have been building him up gradually.
"It’s a slow process to build him up to the point where the Achilles tendon can withstand the rigours of Premier League football. There is no certainty until he ’s back that he will be back. So fingers crossed he will.
"He’s in the last stages of his rehab and he’s working hard and doing well. Will he play in February? “I hope so, yes.”
Willock’s absence has been exacerbated by Elliot Anderson's long-term injury and Sandro Tonali's ban from football until August. Newcastle are also without Joelinton until May at the earliest after the Brazilian underwent thigh surgery last month.
That has left Howe with just three central midfielders in Sean Longstaff, Lewis Miley and Bruno Guimaraes, who is one Premier League yellow card away from serving a one-match suspension.
"The injuries have brought inconsistency to our performances," said Howe on Friday. "We haven’t had the same fluency. I don’t want it to look like I’m criticising Bruno, Sean and Lewis, who have stepped up incredibly well. They are all having individually very good seasons.
"We have to focus on the players we do have to find ways to improve their performances to help the team."