NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe insists his Newcastle United side remain in a battle to secure their Premier League status, despite opening up a 10-point gap over their rivals.
Three points at Southampton on Thursday night further eased the pressure at the bottom, and could put the Magpies within a win or two of ensuring they beat the drop — a battle which looked doomed at the turn of the year.
While many fans turn their attention to who Newcastle can catch above them, Howe is not losing focus on the task at hand.
When asked whether his side are now safe, Howe said: “No, we are not because football changes very quickly as we have seen for the positive. We have got to be very grounded, very humble, very level. We enter a very difficult spell of games where we go to Chelsea, Everton and then Tottenham. Away from home they are all incredibly difficult games.”
“What we have done is put a gap between us and the bottom teams — but that’s all it is.”
While Newcastle were the biggest spenders in the January transfer window in world football, seeing improvements and looking purely at the numbers only tells part of the club’s story.
One of the real areas of improvement under Howe has been the belief and ability to win a game, no matter the cost. In recent weeks Newcastle have controlled games, counterattacked, soaked up pressure and importantly, won when they’ve not always been at their best.
“The spirit is very, very good,” he said of his squad. “The players were lacking a little bit of confidence when I first came in due to the position we were in the league.
“This group has given me everything since then, they are a really committed group of people,” said Howe. “The new guys have come in and fostered that. We have signed a lot of good people. The leadership within the group is good and you have seen that out on the pitch.”
While Joelinton, Bruno Guimaraes, Dan Burn and others have taken the limelight of late, there have been some players whose performance and consistency has attracted less atttention.
And one of those, according to Howe, is goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.
“Martin is getting better and better and I think that was due to a couple of things. First, his fitness as he had been out a long time. His return kind of coincided with my appointment.
“But I think in recent weeks we have started to see the very best of him in his kicking and his distribution, his composure, his ability to speed the game up or slow it down, depending on what we need and, of course, the most important thing is saves.
“He is in a very good moment and he will be playing behind a very settled back four, which is playing very well.”
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