Eddie Howe admitted that Newcastle have made faster progress than expected as he hailed his team’s “amazing achievement” in qualifying for the Champions League after being involved in a relegation skirmish only last season.
“We’ve shot ahead of schedule and that brings big challenges for the future,” said Howe following the 0-0 draw against Leicester at St James’ Park which guaranteed Newcastle a top four finish.
“But you have take these opportunities and it feels amazing. It’s an amazing achievement to go from where we’ve come from to here. It’s emotional; I’m very proud of everyone connected with the club.
“This wasn’t in our sights at the start of the season. We’d just escaped relegation and we were hopeful of growing and competing for Europe in a couple of seasons time so I can’t compliment the players enough. It would have been very easy to fade away but we didn’t.”
A smiling Howe seemed to struggle to comprehend he had become the first manager to lead Newcastle into the Champions League since Sir Bobby Robson 20 years ago. “I still have a lot of prove but I always hoped to bring success here,” he said. “I don’t know how I’ll celebrate but I hope it’s not with a tea and biscuit.
“The Champions League is the best competition to be in, to break into that monopoly is quite something. Although I’m not outwardly emotional, inwardly I am. It’s very special to be part of something very special that will hopefully be talked about for years to come. It’s been an amazing season.”
Leicester, the 2016 champions, are now dependent on Everton failing to beat Bournemouth at Goodison Park on Sunday, while they win their own home game against West Ham.
Even so, Dean Smith had no regrets about starting with a back five on Tyneside. “I make no apologies for the way we set up,” said Leicester’s interim manager whose side maintained a rare clean sheet. “It was a real battling performance. We hadn’t kept a clean sheet for so long and where we are now is because of that.
“It almost worked out exactly to plan but their goalkeeper (Nick Pope) made a really good save (from Timothy Castagne) with our only shot. It was the best way for us to get a result if it is too little too late, who knows. But we didn’t come here for a point, we came here to be hard to beat and we’ve taken it (the relegation fight) into the last game.”
If Smith was generally sanguine, he rued the referee, Andre Marriner’s decision, endorsed by VAR, to issue Newcastle’s Bruno Guimarães an early yellow rather than a red card following the Brazilian’s high challenge on Boubakary Soumaré. “It could have been a very different game,” lamented Smith. “Bruno could have been sent off. I don’t think anyone could have complained it had been a red rather than a yellow. It was a dangerous lunge with endangered an opponent.”
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