EDDIE HOWE has hailed Dan Burn as one of his “best-ever signings” – but warned the under-fire defender he is not guaranteed a place in Newcastle United’s starting side.

Burn was heavily criticised as he produced an error-strewn display in last weekend’s 4-4 draw with Luton Town, with large sections of the St James’ Park crowd chanting for the left-back to be replaced by Tino Livramento, a change was eventually implemented by Howe shortly after the hour mark.

The Blyth-born 31-year-old also struggled in the Boxing Day home defeat to Nottingham Forest, when he was given a torrid time by opposition winger Anthony Elanga, a performance that assumes added significance ahead of tomorrow’s return game at the City Ground.

Howe has consistently backed Burn, who was moved to left-back from centre-half at an early stage of the head coach’s Tyneside tenure, despite the presence of Tino Livramento, Lewis Hall and Paul Dummett within the squad, and remains a firm admirer of the defender.

“Dan has been such a big player for us in loads of different ways, and I tried to say that after the (Luton) game,” said Howe. “He’s pivotal to how we play, in lots of different ways. Without giving too many tactical things away, that's why he was such a big miss when we lost him through injury.

“He's also a huge leader of the group, a very big presence obviously physically, but also vocally and that leadership can't be under-estimated.

“He's been an incredible signing for me, much better than I could have hoped, really, in the sense that when we brought him in, we were in a dire situation and he was one of the players that helped galvanise the group, and he's still doing that on a daily basis, so I can't speak highly enough of him.


“I think he has to be right up there in terms of the most important signings we’ve made. Dan was one of those players who was desperate to play for Newcastle, and he’s never lost that love and enthusiasm for the club. He’s still absolutely Newcastle through and through.”

Burn was sidelined for a month-and-a-half earlier this season, and while it was always known that the North-Easterner was suffering from a back injury, Howe has revealed that he actually suffered a fractured spine after falling awkwardly in the home win over Arsenal.

It was initially feared he would be sidelined for much longer than actually proved to be the case, with Howe claiming Burn’s willingness to speed up his recovery at a time when Newcastle were short of defensive options is indicative of his complete commitment to the cause.

“Dan broke his back,” said Howe. “That was his injury when he landed, and we were worried he had done it again against Fulham. We were worried the same injury was going to happen again. It’s another injury where I don’t know how you prevent it, it was an accidental fall.

“He showed tremendous courage to come back way ahead of schedule because you could see the team needed him. He’s played in a little bit of discomfort, especially in the first couple of games. He’s got through that, and I think he’s on his way to feeling really good again.”

However, while Howe remains thoroughly convinced of Burn’s defensive importance, he insists that should not be interpreted as an intention to play him come what may.

There have not been many criticisms levelled at Howe in the last couple of years, but he has occasionally been accused of being extremely reluctant to veer away from his preferred starting side or drop some of his biggest players.

It remains to be seen who lines up at the City Ground tomorrow, but Livramento proved he could slot in at left-back when he come off the bench in both the win over Aston Villa and the defeat to Luton, and the summer signing from Southampton can justifiably be frustrated at his lack of opportunities so far this season.

“Tino is an outstanding player, and that’s why I fought so hard to sign him,” said Howe. “He’s an outstanding talent, athletically very good, and of course his best years are ahead of him.

“I’m the biggest fan of Tino there can be, but his challenge is that his primary position is right-back, and he’s fighting with Kieran (Trippier), and we all know about Kieran’s qualities and what he brings to the team.

“He will no doubt get his time, and hopefully he’ll play a lot of games for this football club. I do love him at left-back as well – I think he’s done extremely well there. It’s not his strongest side, but I think he’s been incredible in that position for us.”