Eddie Howe has not given up hope of dragging Newcastle back into the race for a second successive top-four finish.
Howe, with the help of sizeable investment from the club’s Saudi-backed owners, transformed the club from Premier League strugglers to Champions League gatecrashers last season as they muscled aside usual suspects Liverpool – their opponents on Monday – Tottenham and Chelsea to secure a return to European football’s big time.
Their stay proved to be fleeting – defeat by AC Milan earlier this month ended their hopes of a place in the last 16 amid a poor run of form which has left them sitting in ninth place in the Premier League table.
However, asked if the top four was still a target for the current campaign, Howe said: “If that’s possible, then we will go for it. We haven’t written anything off.
“We’re frustrated with the last two results in particular because if we’d won those, we’d be right back in the mix. I see that as a missed opportunity and I know the players feel the same way.
“But we can’t look back, we can only look forward. It’s a challenging and busy month, but one that we need to embrace.”
Back-to-back league losses by lowly Luton and Nottingham Forest – their fifth and sixth defeats in seven games in all competitions – send the Magpies into an intensely difficult January under extreme pressure if they are to achieve their aims for the season.
They begin the new year with a trip to leaders Liverpool and after an FA Cup third-round trip to bitter rivals Sunderland, face club world champions Manchester City at St James’ Park.
Nevertheless, Howe remains undeterred amid the first, and to date relatively muted, rumblings of discontent since he was appointed in November 2021.
Asked about the club’s minimum expectation, he said: “The intention is to finish as high as we can and of course, European football will always be a target for us. I can’t speak on behalf of other people in terms of a minimum expectation.
“My minimum expectation is to achieve the best that we can, and we’ll work towards that on a daily basis.”
Howe has significant credit in the bank as a result of the progress he has made since taking over the reins relinquished by Steve Bruce, and he retains the support of the club’s owners, who accept that last season’s success represented a significant over-achievement in terms of their blueprint for lasting success.
The 46-year-old steered clear of much of the external praise which came his way then, and he intends to use the criticism currently circulating around him to fuel his quest to dispel it.
He said: “I block it out, but of course you know the narrative. I’m not stupid, you know the questions being asked and I think that does fuel me, of course it does.”