The key quotes from Eddie Howe's pre-Norwich City press conference
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 27: Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe takes notes during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Newcastle United at Emirates Stadium on November 27, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

The stakes could not be any higher for Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe and his players this week, with two hugely significant must-win games coming up against fellow relegation rivals Norwich City and Burnley, both at St James' Park

It's no surprise that the odds are firmly stacked against The Magpies in avoiding the drop as four of the previous five sides that have failed to record a victory in any of their first 13 Premier League matches have been relegated from the top-flight. 

The only side to have survived after a dreadful start was Derby County, in 2001, but Howe is fully aware of the challengers that lie ahead and believes that Newcastle will have to be at their "very best" if they are to pick up a much-needed first three points of the campaign against The Canaries on Tuesday evening.

  • "To have the home supporters with us will be an amazing, unique experience and a one I can't wait to sample."

This will be Howe's first home match at St James' Park in the dugout, after testing positive for Covid-19 in the 3-3 draw with Brentford, which meant he had to provide communication from his hotel room, so understandably, he is "looking forward to that experience."

After celebrating his 44th birthday today, he'll be hoping to continue the celebrations with the supporters by enjoying a first win as The Magpies' head coach. 

If the atmosphere is anything similar to that of the previous home fixture, spearheaded by the sensational Wor Flags' display, then it will be a special moment for Howe to savour and enjoy. 

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  • "I'm confident whoever comes in will give a very good account of themselves for the team."

Ahead of the game, Howe stated that the suspensions of club captain Jamaal Lascelles and Matt Ritchie, after the pair picked up their fifth yellow cards of the campaign in the 2-0 defeat at Arsenal, will be "big misses" for Newcastle, "with the experience they have."

The selection dilemma Howe now faces is which players will be given an opportunity to stand in the spotlight. The two clear choices are Federico Fernandez and Jamal Lewis

Fernandez has made five appearances for The Magpies so far this season, while Lewis has featured just twice. With no fresh injuries, it would be a great chance for both players, who will be desperate to make an impression, to give Howe food for thought and stake their name in the team sheet on a more regular basis.  

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  •  "We're looking forward to the challenges that we face this week."

Newcastle's first obstacle to overcome is the visit of Dean Smith's side, before they host The Clarets on Saturday afternoon, with both matches equally as important as they sit six points from safety. 

Howe admits the squad is "aware of how important these games are", but thinks "it's a dangerous thing to look too far ahead." The former AFC Bournemouth manager described it as "a step-by-step process."

He said: "The minute you start looking too far ahead, you can take your eye off the priorities. The priorities right now are the players and preparing them as best we can for the next game."

The Canaries are just above The Magpies in 19th and have claimed two wins this season, but their record in the North East is alarming, having failed to win in their last nine visits, with their last triumph in September 1988. So, this should give Newcastle some confidence that they can end their barren run.  

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  • "We have to improve the defensive side of the game and that's everyone connected with the team."

The Toon Army have conceded 29 goals this season - the most in the top-flight, yet they've scored 15 times and are 13th in the standings, joint level with Mikel Arteta's side. 

While Newcastle's attacking stats are encouraging, their defensive issues are a major concern. It's the first time in over 60 years where they've failed to keep a clean sheet after 13 top-flight matches. 

Howe will have to find a way to give the backline more protection and not make it as easy for their opponents to score goals for fun.    

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  • "I think we have half an eye on January."

It might seem a little early to be discussing the January transfer window with still seven games to play before potential incomings can take place, but Howe will already have an idea as to where Newcastle need to strengthen.

The obvious areas where The Magpies need to improve is in defence with centre-backs and a full-back a priority to stand any chance of staying up. Also, it's likely that Howe will target the midfield as a position that needs urgent reinforcements.  

In his pre-match press conference, Howe admitted that his main focus at this present moment is "on the players that we have in the building now, trying to get the best out of those players, and I am working extremely hard trying to help them deliver their best performances."

Now is the perfect time for certain players to rise to the occasion and prove they still have a future in a black-and-white shirt.  

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