Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe is confident that recent results "can reignite our A-game" after a stalled start to the Premier League campaign.
The Magpies secured a hard-fought 1-0 win over Brentford last Saturday, which was followed midweek by a battling goalless Champions League draw at AC Milan.
The victory at St James' Park – courtesy of a second-half Callum Wilson penalty – brought an end to their three-game Premier League losing streak.
And the draw in Italy, Newcastle's first Champions League group-stage appearance in two decades, was earned despite Milan having 25 shots on goal, which included goalkeeper Nick Pope making five stops in six hectic first-half minutes at the San Siro.
“Going into the Brentford game, we were determined to try to break the run of results we had. We did that,” said Howe, ahead of Sunday's game against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
“We then got a huge point against Milan with a really good defensive display, so hopefully that platform can reignite our A-game.
“We know there’s growth in that performance. We know we can improve, but it’s only by getting good results, sometimes, that that comes.”
And Howe is confident that a repeat of last season's consistency, that saw them finish fourth in the Premier League, is only round the corner.
“It always goes in phases,” he added. “The level or the potential for the team, the squad, is high but confidence is such an easy word to use, but such a difficult thing to find sometimes.
“Hopefully, the last two results will have given us that missing ingredient back. We needed a win.”
What remains to be seen against the Blades, who have taken one point from a possible 15 this season, is how much the midweek exertions have affected the team.
AC Milan 0 Newcastle 0: Player ratings
“You can't measure what emotionally that game has taken out of the players,” said Howe. “Physically you can, but can't mentally, so we have to deal with that.
“If we hadn’t had a European game, this game would still be very difficult, regardless of the emotion given to the game in midweek.
“Add that in and it becomes even more difficult, so we have to deal with all those things, that’s where we are.
“[Sheffield United] have got good athleticism, can counter attack and are good at set pieces. They have got a lot of areas in their team that can hurt us if we're not right.”
But whatever happens on Sunday, Howe insists it would be unfair to criticise after the achievements of a team who went from relegation candidates to finishing in the top four inside 18 months.
“Last year was a season we continued to be very consistent, but this is a totally new challenge this year with largely – and obviously we have made some transfers to add to it – the same group of players,” said Howe.
“My job is to always protect the players. Externally we need to understand the journey we have been on.
“To judge them too harshly, at this stage, would be a big negative and it’s my job to bring that perspective.”
Newcastle will again be without Joelinton and Joe Willock for Sunday's game with Howe suggesting that the Brazilian will be back in action before his midfield colleague.
And Howe also revealed that the club have to remain cautious with striker Wilson's workload after what has been an injury-hit spell since he moved to Tyneside in 2020.
The 31-year-old – who recently signed a one-year contract extension – has been top-scorer every season since he joined, despite his fitness problems.
“We are still missing the two Joes in midfield,” said Howe. “Apart from that we are pretty good. We hope with Joelinton he could be back sooner. With Willock he will out until the international break.
'With Callum we always have to manage his load. That doesn’t change with Callum. Whether it’s a one game week or a three game week, we have to monitor his training and give ourselves the best chance we have with him of him staying with us through the season. So that’s what we will do.”