Why Newcastle United’s postponed fixture at Everton is likely to be welcome news for Eddie Howe
Newcastle United’s trip to Everton has been postponed by the Premier League at the club’s request due to positive Covid-19 cases and injuries. Our writer Jordan Cronin explains why it welcomed news for Eddie Howe & Co:
Why couldn’t Newcastle United fulfill the fixture against Everton?
Premier League rules state if a club cannot field 13 outfield players and a goalkeeper from its squad list or its “appropriately experienced” under-21 players due to COVID-19 infections, isolation and other injuries and illnesses, the match can be postponed.
Ciaran Clark, Matt Ritchie, Joe Willock and Karl Darlow unexpectedly did not feature in the squad on Monday night, while Paul Dummett, Federico Fernandez and Jamal Lewis were known to be missing through injury.
As a result, Howe was forced to make six changes to his starting XI and name two goalkeepers on an eight-man bench (instead of nine) - Freddie Woodman and Mark Gillespie. Young duo Elliot Anderson and Joe White also watched on from the dugout.
Further injuries to Callum Wilson, Allan Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser, plus a one-match suspension for Javier Manquillo - all sustained against Man United - means Newcastle have failed to hit the Premier League threshold. A request to postpone the game was subsequently approved.
Gives Covid-19 affected players time to recover
First and foremost, Covid-19 is not something that should be taken lightly. The most important factor in all of this is the players and staff affected make a full and speedy recovery.
Newcastle will not be naming individuals who have contracted Covid-19 or their vaccination status and have asked their privacy is respected as they focus on their recovery.
Get injured players back to fitness
Newcastle’s injury list is mounting after a hectic festive period. While Howe’s side played right through, other teams had enforced breaks. For example, the Magpies played three times (Leicester City, Liverpool & Manchester City) during Manchester United’s 16-day absence.
Lewis and Fernandez are not expected to return to mid to late January anyway. Dummett is probably about the same, although no potential return dates have been mentioned.
It’s injuries to Wilson, Saint-Maximin and Fraser that are more pressing. Admittedly, the latter two are lesser concerns compared to top-scorer Wilson, with fears he could be outs for “months” with a calf problem.
Meanwhile, Fabian Schar and Jonjo Shelvey, whilst getting through the full 90 minutes against Man United, are also understood to have picked up knocks.
A depleted squad might become a little less depleted by the time Southampton comes around - if that indeed goes ahead as planned on January 2.
Games in-hand gap reduces
Enforced cancellations had raised questions from Howe over the integrity of the league.
Speaking ahead of the 4-1 defeat to Man City, Howe explained: “I don’t think we want half the games played and half not played.
“The league really loses something if it becomes disjointed in terms of games played. When you start losing players to Covid then the worry is the competition becomes slightly unfair and I don’t think anyone wants to see that.
“A decision needs to be made to ensure integrity is maintained in the competition. I think it is on a knife edge.
“People want to see a fair league and not disparity in games and players missing.
“I’m desperate to continue the programme myself but the welfare of the players and supporters has to come first.”
Newcastle have played 19 matches compared to 18th place Burnley’s 15. The games in-hand, at the very least, will narrow to three with Sean Dyche’s side taking on Manchester United on Thursday evening.
Fourth-bottom Watford did have three games in-hand before they lost 4-1 to West Ham United on Tuesday.
The January transfer window is days away
This is a VERY cynical way to look at it, but by the time Newcastle visit Goodison Park in the re-arranged fixture, many will expect Howe to have better players at his disposal with the January transfer window just three days away.
Add potentially Southampton into the mix and Newcastle have two fixtures they can attack with new signings. After the journey to the south coast, Howe’s side aren’t in league action again until January 15 - with Watford up at St James’ Park.
Of course, that all that is much easier said than done.