It has been a wonderful feeling to be a Newcastle fan again since the takeover, and the joy of that 9-match unbeaten Premier League run before Chelsea and Everton was almost uncomfortably wrong to feel after years of mediocrity. Have things been too rosy, to the point that we as fans have failed to look at things objectively at times, with the cherry on the cake of a February Manager of the month award for Eddie Howe?

Since our last match against the Toffees almost 2 weeks ago, the team sheet that night had me questioning our use of our squad, and a lack of rotation until now. With 4 matches in 13 days, 3 of which were away, and an emotionally and physically draining loss to Chelsea, I feel wholescale changes should’ve been made.

Before you pounce on me like a hungry lion that hasn’t eaten in days, a Premier League campaign is a squad game in my opinion. And yes, you may say that some of the second string shouldn’t be anywhere near getting a start, and yet, all of us would’ve said the same thing about Joelinton pre-Howe. Put your teeth and claws away for a moment if you can. The statistics below show the number of starts, substitute roles and non appearances for players that have been available for selection in the March marathon from the squad of 25:

As you can see, many of the lads have played 4 games, and in the months since Howe arrived, even more matches since November, and even before with West Brom’s current manager. It showed in the performance against Everton where we looked lacklustre – it was more fun feeding my 2-month old daughter at 4.30am in the morning. What team would I have chosen instead? Put your teeth and claws away once again if you haven’t already, and the subsequent logic behind it will emerge.

Here are the pros and cons, with the latter first:

1)     We lose and are 9 points clear of Watford with the same number of matches played.

2)   The gaffer gets a barrage of criticism for fielding an under-strength side against a relegation rival.

3)    We get whacked 5-0 and consequently damage our goal difference.

Here are the pros:

1)   We lose and are 9 points clear of Watford with the same number of matches played.

2)   Everton were on a terrible run of form going into this, with 5 losses in 6 matches.

3)   The first team could’ve had a well deserved rest after a hectic schedule. We had question marks over the fitness of Willock, Joelinton, Shelvey & ASM going into the match.

4)  The second string get to prove themselves other than in training, and if they’d gotten a positive result, they go into the Dubai trip motivated and with a chance of possibly starting against Spurs. Great psychologically for them too with added competition for all.

Imagine yourself being in a similar position at work where you aren’t given the opportunity to show your value, as compared to the other more talented members in the team. Demotivating. The second string aren’t there just to train, hang out, have fun and tell jokes.

5)  Howe gets to see the squad players after a competitive match. Who should be kept on beyond this summer if we stay up or if we don’t?

6)  Darlow gets to prove himself after his last performance where he let in 3 against Brentford. With Dúbravka possibly missing the Spurs game after withdrawing from the Slovakia squad, our number 2 is lacking match practice right now.

7)    Krafth and Manquillo starting, get to fight it out to see who wants the RB slot while Trippier is out.

8)   Lascelles and Dummett, who’ve been decent when they’ve played, get to hopefully continue their good form and get additional minutes in the can. Pressure on the current centre back pairing too.

9)  Bruno and Longstaff get to continue their promising partnership that we saw against Chelsea.

10)  Murphy – Gets a chance to see if he can finally get a goal.

11)  Almirón – Gets an opportunity to play as a number 10, which many of us have wanted to see since he arrived, rather than his headless chicken performances on the wing.

12)  Ritchie – Gets to play in midfield/wing back and dictate the intensity of how we play, being the passionate madman he is.

13)  Gayle – Has he been given a proper chance by both the current and previous manager other than short substitute appearances? Chris Wood has failed to impress thus far in my opinion.

Since Eddie Howe arrived as manager, we’ve played a total of 20 matches, with 18 in the Premier League, 1 in the FA Cup and a friendly in Saudi Arabia:

The following graphic looks at the number of appearances made by players courtesy of Transfermarkt.com since Howe took charge:

Are some of the fringe players that bad in training for them not to start? Do they not fit Eddie Howe’s style of play? Or is the manager playing it incredibly safe in order to guarantee safety with the same players?

With the intensity that we hear about in training and the number of matches being played, it’s no wonder that there have been so many injuries or players playing through the pain barrier; with a half fit ASM being a prime example of this. I feel sorry for him when he’s having to come on to make an impact despite training twice in a fortnight. What is being overplayed doing to the player’s bodies in terms of their long term health?

Of course the two-week break has come at a favourable time for players to recharge and for injured players to come back into contention. However, with the fixture list below, we play a whopping 6 matches in April:

In my opinion we’re not quite safe yet, and how we utilise our full squad may impact our chances of staying up. I do hope some of the fringe players get a chance to prove themselves, and the first teamers get sufficient rest and recovery time in preparation for next season, whichever division we’re in.

ALAN KHAW – @alankhaw