IN his first two weeks as Newcastle United head coach, Eddie Howe has already had to make some key decisions. Who is going to be on his backroom team? Do his players need more fitness work? What infrastructural improvements are required at the training ground?

In the last 24 hours, however, one question has been dominating his thoughts. Who should start his first game in charge of the Magpies? Not only is tomorrow afternoon’s meeting with Brentford a match Newcastle desperately need to win to aid their relegation battle, it is also a fixture that will set the tone for the remainder of Howe’s reign.

The situation has been complicated by the international break, with Newcastle’s squad effectively having been split in two over the course of the last fortnight.

The club’s non-internationals have been based on Tyneside, and have received a crash-course in the methods and philosophies that form the bedrock of Howe’s footballing outlook.

The Magpies’ international players, on the other hand, have been scattered all over the globe and have found themselves playing catch-up on their return to Darsley Park.

As a result, tomorrow’s starting side will be drawn almost exclusively from the former group as opposed to the latter.

“The difficulty for the international lads is that some of them have only been with us for a day or two days,” said Howe. “I haven’t even seen Miguel (Almiron) yet, I’ll look forward to hopefully seeing him today.

“The challenge I have is that if I make too many changes with the boys that have come back, then you’ll have a team with say seven players that have done a lot of work under our training and will understand it really well, and then maybe half a team that doesn’t understand it so well.

“I don’t think that’s a good mix, so we’ll have to get that balance right between who’s been here the whole time and who’s coming back from international duty.”

That suggests the likes of Emil Krafth, Fabian Schar, Jamal Lewis, Jeff Hendrick and Almiron might have to wait for their first involvement under Howe, although the exception to the rule could prove to be Martin Dubravka, who will hope to make his first domestic appearance of the season tomorrow afternoon.

Having spent most of his time on Tyneside as Newcastle’s undisputed number one, Dubravka has been sidelined since sustaining a foot injury while representing Slovakia at this summer’s European Championships.

He has not played a single minute in Newcastle colours this term, but he proved his wellbeing as he played the full 90 minutes of Slovakia’s World Cup qualifying win over Malta last weekend.

In his absence, Karl Darlow has started Newcastle’s last seven matches, and Howe admits he will have to make a difficult call.

“Dubravka played (during the international break),” said Howe. “Is he 100 per cent fit? That remains to be seen. That was his first game in a long, long time, so I’ve got a tough call to make there.”

The make-up of Newcastle’s midfield is another thorny issue, with Steve Bruce having failed to hit upon a successful formula in the opening three months of the campaign.

Howe’s previous experience of working with Ryan Fraser at Bournemouth means the Scotsman might well get the nod for one of Newcastle’s midfield spots, and given the strength of his remarks today, the Magpies’ new head coach would also appear to be angling towards selecting Jonjo Shelvey.

Howe knew Shelvey possessed plenty of natural talent, but he has been especially impressed by his performances on the training ground.

“I think we’ve got some very good players, some very good technical players,” said Howe.

“Just picking one for example – Jonjo Shelvey – I knew how good Jonjo was on the ball, technically, having played against him and seen him many times. But then when you actually work with him, you realise that he’s an incredible technician."

Newcastle (probable, 4-4-1-1): Dubravka; Manquillo, Fernandez, Lascelles, Ritchie; Murphy, Hayden, Shelvey, Fraser; Saint-Maximin; Wilson.