Newcastle United’s exit from Europe stung but may have a silver lining later in the season as Eddie Howe tries to qualify the club for a second straight Champions League campaign.
The 2-1 home defeat by AC Milan on Wednesday not only ended the club’s hopes of making the last 16 but also left them rock bottom of Group F and without even a Europa League consolation.
Newcastle began the game still reeling from a crippling list of missing players including injured keeper Nick Pope, Jacob Murphy, Sven Botman and Harvey Barnes and banned Sandro Tonali.
Adding to Howe’s problems, captain Kieran Trippier and Anthony Gordon were substituted during the game and are questionable for Saturday’s Premier League match at home to Fulham.
A freakish run of injuries, mixed with a relentless fixture list, threatens to derail Newcastle’s season and reinforcements can be expected in January.
But the fact that the club will not have any European commitments next year might give Howe the breathing space to clear the treatment room and mount a strong challenge to finish in a Champions League qualification spot again.
They are currently seventh after three losses in five Premier League games and will be vulnerable on Saturday to a Fulham team who have enjoyed back-to-back 5-0 wins.
“The pain you feel now is motivation for tomorrow and now we have to focus on the Premier League,” Howe said of his team’s exit from Europe.
“For me there is nothing but positive thoughts about the team and what they are giving, but now we have to make sure we are consistent in the Premier League.”
Newcastle are also in the League Cup quarter-finals at Chelsea next week and have a highly-anticipated FA Cup third round game at local rivals Sunderland to come on Jan. 6.
The disappointment of their Champions League exit will soon fade if they have a good second half of the season but Howe knows the next few weeks will be tricky.
“We went out fighting,” he said. “We didn’t give our best version of ourselves (during the group stage) but there were good reasons for that. We are desperate to get back into it (the Champions League).
“You always have to use disappointments and setbacks as fuel for your fire to continue to achieve.”