Eddie Howe hopes to channel the spirit of Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson when Manchester United visit Tyneside on Monday night.
Newcastle’s manager would relish the sight of his side reprising the swashbuckling performances which became commonplace during the tenures of Keegan and Robson in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Back then beating Manchester United was not regarded as an exceptional feat by Newcastle fans but Howe's class of 2021-22 face Ralf Rangnick's team having won only once all season and in acute peril of relegation.
“There’s a lot of memories that spring to mind of those games in the 1990s and just after,” said Howe. “Newcastle tended, at that period of time, to have memorable games against most teams. There are standout moments you think back to; I can still picture some of the goals and the scenes in my mind.
“It’s up to us to try to recreate those times – the attacking verve, the swagger that Kevin Keegan’s 1990s Newcastle had, the flair the individual players possessed and the team identity. It’s something we’re desperate to do.
“But we’re going to need a little bit of time to see that in full creation. At the moment we’re still progressing, and we have to obviously get the defensive side of our game right before we transition into the team we all want to be.”
Given that Howe's side have conceded 11 goals – and scored one – in their past three games, adjusting that calibration correctly is imperative. Steve Bruce's successor must somehow add stability to a vulnerable defence while bringing the best out of talented forwards including Allan Saint-Maximin, Callum Wilson and Miguel Almirón who have yet to gel as a unit on his watch.
On the break
For many years Newcastle have functioned best as a counterattacking unit, playing very much on the break, but their latest manager hopes to oversee a change into a much more front-foot, possession-heavy style.
Possibly Howe’s biggest immediate worry is that Saint-Maximin, his most gifted and improvisational attacker, appears to have regressed in recent weeks and looks to be playing on a different wavelength to Wilson, the team’s most reliable goalscorer.
“One of the ways we work is that we attack with relationships,” Howe said. “The only way you build those relationships is by repetition in training, by attacking with everyone together as a team so you know what you’re going to do. We’ve started that work, it’s going on every day. I’ve seen some good things in training, probably not seen as much as we’d want in the matches, but that could be down to the teams we’ve faced.
“In recent matches we’ve not had a lot of the ball so you’re mainly counterattacking. And you can’t attack as individuals. It’s not as effective as when you attack together. That isn’t aimed at Maxi [Saint-Maximin] but Maxi is part of that.”
Despite adverse results, Howe’s desire to ultimately return Newcastle to a brand of football more akin to that enjoyed under Keegan and Robson dictates he continues to enjoy considerable goodwill from the fans.
Even so the former Bournemouth manager knows that, for this to continue and for the players to keep buying into his ideas, results must improve.
“You always need to win,” he acknowledged. “I’m in the kind of job when only winning is acceptable really because you can highlight positives but ultimately only winning silences any outside noise. And even within the squad, the players need to win; we have to have stability in our thought process.”
Howe suggested a sense of perspective is also required. “We’ve had some very tough fixtures and the team’s stretched at the moment by injuries and illness.”