LUTON TOWN, a defeat and a draw. Everton, a 3-0 thumping. Nottingham Forest, a 3-1 loss on home soil. Bournemouth, a 2-0 defeat that could easily have been ever heavier. When it comes to playing against teams involved in the relegation battle, this has not been a good season for Newcastle United.

True, the Magpies have failed to match last season’s exploits in general, but their record against the top teams has held up reasonably well, with league wins over Arsenal, Aston Villa (twice), Chelsea and Manchester United, and cup victories over Manchester City and Manchester United too.

So, as they prepare to head to the City Ground tomorrow teatime attempting to avoid being on the wrong end of a league double against Nottingham Forest, how does Eddie Howe account for his side’s struggles against the teams in the bottom half of the table?

“There’s probably a little bit in that in terms of the mental side of things,” explained the Magpies boss. “The pressure and expectation going into those games is probably that they’re automatic wins, and that’s never the case in the Premier League.

“We know how difficult those games are. I think adjusting to that new pressure has been something we’ve had to do. Last year we didn’t have that, every game and every win was a bonus really. Every win was something new on the journey that we were on.

“That was one of the challenges going into this season – the pressures and the expectation. The start point to the season was very different, so for our players to adjust to that, it’s been something new.”


December’s Boxing Day home defeat to Nottingham Forest was especially disappointing, with the Magpies finding themselves repeatedly ripped apart on the break as Chris Wood scored a hat-trick. Wood will be missing tomorrow because of injury, but Howe hardly needs Forest’s threat spelling out to him.

“Any defeat at home hurts,” said Howe. “And it can hurt even more badly because of how you lose. The game was there for us when we were leading 1-0, but we didn’t keep our foot to the floor and, from their side, Nottingham Forest played well. We didn’t deal with their threats well enough, and we have to put that right.”