IN terms of glamour, prestige and excitement for the fans, games don’t come much bigger than Newcastle United’s trip to the San Siro to take on AC Milan next week. But in terms of what it could mean for the remainder of the Magpies’ season, it could be argued that the Magpies’ opening Champions League fixture is trumped by tomorrow’s home game with Brentford.

Win at St James’ Park, and Eddie Howe’s side can head off on their European adventures with a spring in their step. Fail to beat the Bees, though, and the edginess that has been apparent on Tyneside in the wake of a shaky start to the season will evolve into a sense of full-blown panic.

Newcastle head into tomorrow’s teatime encounter sitting in 14th position in the table, with just three points from their opening four games. There are mitigating factors behind their poor points return, both in terms of the general difficulty of the fixture list so far and the way in which the Magpies somehow contrived to turn a winning position into a defeat against ten-man Liverpool. It should also be noted that, while last season ended in a fourth-place finish, Newcastle actually began the campaign by winning just one of their opening seven league matches.

These remain early days, but with ambitions having been elevated in the wake of last season’s achievements, and with the challenges of the Champions League schedule just around the corner, tomorrow’s game nevertheless feels like a crucial juncture for all that Howe was understandably keen to downplay its potential significance at his press conference earlier this morning.

“I have to detach myself from everything and look at it for what it is,” said the Magpies head coach. “We’ve played four games, and we haven’t performed well in one. We’ve been a little bit inconsistent in the others, but it’s not all bad.

“There’s been a lot of good in there, and I think I have to retain faith in everything we do, with the group of players that we have. It’s a long season, and there’s lots of twists and turns to come. We’re going to be stretched more than probably any other season, so we have to deal with those challenges.

“It was never going to be easy for us. I’m very calm, in one sense, but also anxious to succeed in another and determined to try to win football matches.”


Inevitably, Tuesday’s trip to Milan threatens to overshadow tomorrow’s game, for all that the Brentford result will play a major role in determining the general mood in the build-up to Newcastle’s opening Champions League group game.

Howe insisted that his line-up to face Brentford will not be influenced by what lies just around the corner, and to that end, the anticipated absence of Sandro Tonali, while depriving Newcastle of their record signing, arguably makes it easier for Howe to settle on his midfield selection, with Sean Longstaff poised to return in place of the injured Italian.

Beyond this weekend, though, Howe will surely have to start planning two or three games in advance, with the return of Champions League football depriving Newcastle of one of their key advantages from last season.

Last term, Howe generally had a clear midweek in which to prepare his players for their Premier League matches. For most of this autumn, that will no longer be the case.

“It’s a huge challenge,” said Howe. “There’s no doubt about that. We’re not underestimating the (importance of the) free weeks, the more time you have to prepare for opponents, the better. If you can train properly with a full group of players, that’s even better again.

“This will just be different, and we’re going to have to find a way because teams will have a week to prepare for us and we may only have two or three days. That’s just something we’ll have to adapt to, and hopefully we’ll find a way to win.”

And what of the pressures on Howe personally? Earlier this week, reports surfaced suggesting the head coach’s job was not under threat, but the fact that such stories were felt necessary at all highlights the extent to which the degree of scrutiny being directed at Newcastle’s head coach has ratcheted up significantly this season.

“I’m immune to all of that, so I’m not hearing it,” said Howe. “I’m only feeling my emotions to be honest, and my emotions are such that when we don’t win, I’m not great to be around.

“That is my drive. I don’t need anyone else to tell me anything about the team. My drive is so high. My standards are so high that I expect to win every game, and I want to win every game. If we don’t, I’m disappointed in myself, so I don’t need anyone else to tell me anything.”