Patience may be a virtue but Eddie Howe knows Newcastle fans are growing tired of waiting for their team to win a trophy.
The last manager at St James’ Park to get his hands on major silverware was Joe Harvey in 1969 when the Fairs Cup was paraded through the city’s streets on an open-top bus.
Ending the wait has proved beyond an illustrious cast of Harvey’s successors including Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Sir Bobby Robson and Rafael Benítez so Howe is not about to underestimate the importance of Tuesday’s Carabao Cup quarter-final against Leicester.
“We understand the game has special meaning,” he said. “The Carabao Cup’s now taken on huge importance for us. We’ll be at full strength and doing everything we can to try to win.”
Should Newcastle reach their first domestic semi-final since 2005, when Graeme Souness’s team lost to Manchester United in the last four of the FA Cup, Gallowgate Enders may start believing he really is capable of walking on the Tyne.
His heavily rotated side looked distinctly mortal as they lost 2-1 at League One Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup third round last Saturday, but Leicester will face a very different starting XI at St James’.
Newcastle cantered to a 3-0 Premier League win at the King Power Stadium on Boxing Day but Howe remains wary of the threat posed by Leicester and their manager, Brendan Rodgers.
“Brendan’s a very good tactician,” said Howe. “Psychologically, it would be a great thing for us to get to a semi-final and I’m very, very keen to experience it but we have a very tough opponent in our way.
“The scoreline in the league game at Leicester slightly flattered us. We played well but it certainly wasn’t an easy game. We understand the quality Leicester have; we’ll need to be at our best to beat them. We’ll need to be highly motivated and we’ll need a real energy from everyone to get the crowd into the match.”
Newcastle have not risen to third, losing once in the league, without formidable togetherness and a pronounced streetwise edge but the eight changes made to the starting lineup at Hillsborough emphasized their lack of strength in depth.
This shortfall also goes some way to explaining the recent emphasis on gamesmanship, most notably time-wasting in certain fixtures. Howe spent time shadowing Diego Simeone at Atlético Madrid during a sabbatical between leaving Bournemouth and joining Newcastle.
Rectifying the imbalance between the quality of Newcastle’s first choice team and second string is complicated by the need to remain within financial fair play parameters. Although the club’s Saudi Arabian majority owners would like to make a significant transfer market investment this month, they have spent more than £210m on Bruno Guimarães, Kieran Trippier, Sven Botman and Alexander Isak during the past 12 months. With their commercial income still to catch up, directors are in genuine peril of falling foul of FFP regulations.
Howe is, in certain respects, a victim of his own success. Considering that this time last year he was preoccupied with avoiding falling into the Championship and some on Tyneside were starting to wonder whether the Saudis should have made a concerted effort to poach Rodgers from Leicester, no one really envisaged the team would be challenging for a Champions League place so soon.
The best way to boost off-field revenue is to qualify for Europe’s showpiece competition, but without reinforcing the midfield with players of the caliber of Leicester’s James Maddison and Youri Tielemans (both much admired at St James’) Newcastle could fall short.
“We have a very small squad,” Howe said on Saturday. “I’ve recently seen signs of fatigue and I have to protect players for the games ahead.”
Howe, for all his protests to the contrary, will not be heartbroken to be out of the FA Cup, a competition certain predecessors, including Benítez and Alan Pardew, made something of an art form of exiting as they made the avoidance of relegation their priority .
But the Carabao Cup, despite the potential threat it represents to Champions League qualification, offers too enticing an opportunity to resist, something Howe will prove by recalling, among others, Callum Wilson and Nick Pope while also involving Allan Saint-Maximin.
With the lack of FA Cup involvement having opened up the March calendar he would relish taking his team for warm-weather training on Jeddah’s Red Sea coast after winning the Carabao Cup in late February to finally bring that 54-year wait to an end.
“One of my big motivations is creating our own history,” said Howe. “You want to leave a mark. We’d love people to be talking about this team in 50 or even 100 years’ time.”