Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe has said that keeping the club in the Premier League would be one of the finest moments of his career.
The Magpies looked in dire straits going into the new year after managing just one win all season with relegation down to the second tier for the third time in 13 campaigns very much on the cards.
But January saw the start of a dramatic upturn in fortunes as the club's new Saudi-backed owners funded a spending spree that saw Kieran Trippier, Chris Wood, Bruno Guimaraes, Dan Burn and Matt Targett all arrive on Tyneside.
Howe believes the 1-0 victory at Leeds United, followed by a morale-boosting warm-weather training camp in Saudi Arabia, were key factors behind a recovery that now sees Newcastle sitting in 14th place, 12 points clear of the bottom three.
“It would be right up there, right up there,” said Howe, when asked where this season listed in his career achievements. “I’ve been so focused week on week and the job’s not done yet. I can’t take myself there in terms of looking back and reflecting. It’s difficult in this moment to do that.
“I’m very much in the moment and focusing on the next game knowing that we’re still in the middle of the battle that we have ahead.
“You may be better asking me if – and hopefully when – we achieve the target.
“Leeds was a turning point for us. We went to Saudi Arabia after that, which was a brilliant trip for the group and we came back in a much better place, united and ready to start the fight to stay in the division. That was a massive, massive result for us that led to the good run of form since.”
Newcastle were five points adrift of safety when Howe, who previously guided Bournemouth from League Two to a top-10 finish in the Premier League, replaced Steve Bruce in charge last November.
Victory over Crystal Palace on Tyneside on Wednesday would take Newcastle to 40 points, the traditional finishing line for those hoping to avoid relegation.
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Three points against beaten FA Cup semi-finalists Palace would see Newcastle secure a sixth successive home Premier League win for the first time since April 2004 under Sir Bobby Robson.
“To do that would be an incredible thing for us,” said Howe. “To do anything related to the name Sir Bobby Robson and to try to achieve one of his milestones would be brilliant for us.
“Playing at home, as we’ve always said, is such a unique thing here. It’s such a privilege to play in the stadium and the atmosphere the supporters have created has been fantastic.”
With top-flight status all but guaranteed, Howe can start looking ahead to the summer and taking the club on to the next level.
“We want to score more goals,” said Howe, whose team defeated Leicester City at St James' Park on Sunday thanks to an injury-time diving header from Brazilian midfielder Guimaraes.
“I think our style evolves that way rather than us trying to find it. We want to win and entertain and play in the style everyone wants. We are not there yet.
“We are in the early stages of building. We want the same intensity and desire to win, plus more control and to express ourselves with the ball.”