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It was already a bad Saturday for Newcastle. Then it got worse. Less than two hours after their sorry FA Cup third-round defeat to Cambridge United at St James’ Park, it emerged that Callum Wilson will be out for at least eight weeks with his calf injury.
Wilson was forced off against Manchester United on December 27 after going down while in possession and Howe admitted post-Cambridge he will miss the next two months of action.
That means Newcastle are set to be without their top goalscorer, who has six of their 18 goals across all competitions this season, for a minimum of seven Premier League matches.
And the news came shortly after Newcastle’s need for a new striker to fill in for Wilson was made abundantly clear against League One Cambridge.
Despite having 23 shots, Newcastle failed to score at home to their lower league opponents, although visiting goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov stood strong to deny Joelinton brilliantly at the end having also thwarted Jacob Murphy earlier on in the match.
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Still, had Newcastle had an out-and-out number nine on the field instead of Allan Saint-Maximin, Murphy and Ryan Fraser leading the line – with all three forwards having spells as the team’s centre-forward – they surely would have won.
Newcastle squandered several opportunities and they cannot afford a repeat of such profligacy in their next 19 Premier League matches or else their fate is clear: relegation.
New Newcastle chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan sat alongside Amanda Staveley in the directors’ box on Saturday and he must now recognise the vital need for a new striker.
Howe suggested as much himself, saying: “We lacked that killer instinct that every team needs. When you don’t put the game to bed, there’s always a chance you leave yourself open, and, unfortunately, one of those moments cost us the game.”
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The club’s current focus is currently on centre-backs as they seek to bring in both Sevilla’s Diego Carlos and Lille’s Sven Botman.
Of course, the centre of defence is also a pressing area of concern for Newcastle given they have conceded 42 goals in 19 matches – with no team in the division boasting a worse record. They have also managed only a single clean sheet all season.
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Yet given they face 17th-placed Watford, two points above them, in a crucial fixture on Tyneside next Saturday, any move for a centre-forward should surely be expedited. It is a matter of immediate concern.
Joelinton has found a new role as a central midfielder, and should be considered as such from now on, and Wilson’s back-up Dwight Gayle is not of the standard Newcastle need. Neither are stand-ins Saint-Maximin, Fraser or Murphy.
Liverpool’s Divock Origi, Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah and Manchester United’s Anthony Martial are among the strikers linked to Newcastle and they must settle on a chosen target quickly.
The Magpies are too reliant on Wilson and without him for such a long period and will almost certainly be relegated if his goals are not adequately replaced.
“We would love to [make more signings]. I think you can see what Kieran [Trippier] did to the team [on his debut],” added Howe after the Cambridge defeat.
“The response to him was first class. New signings at this moment would breathe new confidence into the team. So, fingers crossed.”
Newcastle desperately need new confidence – and they also desperately need to replace Wilson’s impact in front of goal. And fast.
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