Football: Newcastle ‘desperate for the next step’ ahead of Cup semi-final

Newcastle United's English manager Eddie Howe believes "it’s a dangerous thing to say reaching a semi-final is an achievement" as it sets a ceiling for success. PHOTO: AFP

SOUTHAMPTON – Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe insists his team are “desperate for the next step” ahead of their League Cup semi-final first leg at Southampton on Tuesday.

The Magpies last won a trophy in 1955, when they lifted the FA Cup. Their last Cup final appearance came 44 years later, when they lost 2-0 to Manchester United, who will contest the other semi-final first leg against Nottingham Forest on Wednesday.

Newcastle’s best showing in the League Cup was in 1976, when they lost to Manchester City in the final. Tuesday will be the Magpies’ first semi-final in 18 years.

On the expectations, Howe said on Monday: “I understand the importance of the game to everybody, me included, but I try and approach the games in the same way.

“Very analytical in the build-up, understand our opponent, understand how we’re going to play, trust our training, trust our work.

“I think you have to have that mindset where you’re not too emotionally involved, you’re looking at it clearly from a football perspective.”

Newcastle go into the match third in the English Premier League, having lost just one of their 20 league matches this term. No team have lost fewer games.

Said Howe: “We are delighted to be where we are but the semi-final itself isn’t enough for anybody.

“You go into these games and, to say you got into a semi-final means nothing, you want to get one step further.

“It’s a dangerous thing to say reaching a semi-final is an achievement because maybe that sets a dangerous ceiling of where we are at mentally.

“We are proud to be where we are but we want more... We are desperate for the next step.”

Despite star forwards Alexander Isak and Allan Saint-Maximin having failed to score in three of their last four matches, Howe insisted they could make an impact.

Neither has started a match since mid-September, besides the FA Cup third-round defeat by Sheffield Wednesday.

Said Howe: “I’d say they’re both getting there, for sure. I think it’s different situations.

“With Alex, we’ve had to be mindful of the fact that he hasn’t had a lot of training time...

“Allan has had more training time. He’s had more fitness work, so I think Allan is in peak physical shape.”

Fringe players Jonjo Shelvey, Matt Targett and Emil Krafth, however, look set to miss out.

There are more injury worries for the Saints, who will definitely be without fullbacks Juan Larios and Valentino Livramento, while Alex McCarthy, Theo Walcott and Armel Bella-Kotchap are injury doubts.

Southampton come into the game bottom of the Premier League.

But they knocked out City, who have won five of the last seven League Cups, in the last round and are also alive in the FA Cup.

They might have hoped for the first leg to be at St James’ Park after defender Duje Caleta-Car admitted “maybe we have more pressure at home than when we play away”, following their fourth straight home Premier League defeat last Saturday.

It’s 146 days since the Saints last won at home in the league.

However, in the Cup, they have twice seen off lower league opposition at St Mary’s before stunning City 2-0 on Jan 11.

Their last League Cup final was in 2017, when they narrowly lost 3-2 to United after a late goal.

Caleta-Car told the Southern Daily Echo: “We’ve shown in the cups that we are playing better, so I hope against Newcastle, we’ll be better.”

They will have to be wary of conceding from set pieces, having let in five in the Premier League since coach Nathan Jones took over in November.

Under Ralph Hasenhuttl last season, only Leeds United conceded more non-penalty set pieces in the Premier League.

Said Jones: “Size-wise, we’re not the biggest – we’re probably one of the smallest Premier League sides in terms of a squad. We’ve got to be really, really organised, really aggressive, really structured.”

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