Daily Express

Howe can’t afford to be nearly man

- By Simon Bird

THE glamour and money of competing with Europe’s elite is over.

The grit and grind of getting back into the Champions League lies ahead.

Eddie Howe, below, and his squad have big questions to answer in the coming weeks.

Will they slip further adrift of a top-four challenge? Can they beat Chelsea in the Carabao Cup last eight next week and reach the final?

What about the pressure FA Cup trip to Sunderland and then a tough run in the Premier League?

Newcastle face a bumpy season trying to maintain their two-year rise and move from being contenders to winners.

Backed by Saudi cash they are no longer plucky underdogs.The owners want to build a winning machine and although it is still early days, at some point the transition has to be made: the very biggest games won.

Throwing away a place in the

Europa League, a decent shot at a trophy, has taken the gloss off this campaign.

More flops will only add to the fear Newcastle have hit a wall, with rivals in better form and having better luck with injuries.

Howe, for all his brilliant rebuilding work, has to avoid becoming a nearly man. He has credit in the bank with fans and Amanda Stavaley, but who knows what the PIF overlords are thinking?

They want “to be No.1” but how soon? How soon do they want a trophy?

There was no shame in crashing out of the Group of Death but there was naivety and unusual openness in defence as they chased a winner against Milan and were caught out.

Pragmatist­s who argue they are better off not being in the Europa League are killjoys. They need a trophy and would have been contenders.

So two chances remain for a cup. So much depends on that trip to Chelsea on Tuesday. Players are on the way back from injury.

But skipper Jamaal Lascelles has a warning – and that is to manage games better.

He said: “We threw everything forwards towards the end and it cost us.

“We’re learning on the job. It’s new territory for a lot of us. I think we’ve dealt with a lot of occasions well, but we’re out. Maybe we could have been smarter.”

 ?? ?? OUT: Newcastle have to prove they belong now
OUT: Newcastle have to prove they belong now
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