Newcastle boss Eddie Howe has told his players their resounding Premier League victory over Brighton will count for nothing if they do not beat Leicester to clinch a place in the Champions League.
The Magpies survived a test of their top-four credentials at St James’ Park on Thursday evening when they defended a 2-1 lead in the face of a determined Seagulls backlash before eventually killing off the game to win 4-1.
As a result, they climbed four points clear of fifth-placed Liverpool with both clubs having two games left, and will play in the Champions League next season if either the Reds lose at home to Aston Villa on Saturday or they beat the Foxes on Tyneside two days later.
Asked if he could put into words how big a win it was, Howe said: “It’s a huge win for us.
“I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but it won’t mean anything if we don’t back it up on Monday night and that’s an incredibly difficult game. After the high of today and what we’ve given in the match, we know we have to repeat it.
“Nothing is given to you in the Premier League. We know Leicester’s qualities, so we have to be very calm, recover well and we have to have the same focus and mentality that we had today.”
Newcastle looked to be cruising to victory when Deniz Undav’s own goal and a second from Dan Burn sent them in at the break 2-0 ahead, although Undav made amends within six minutes of the restart to spark something of a fightback before Callum Wilson and Bruno Guimaraes struck at the death.
Howe’s side cannot now finish any lower than fifth and are assured of Europa League football at worst, but the 45-year-old is still not allowing himself to get excited.
He said: “Honestly I don’t [get excited]. I take great pride in the performance tonight. I’ll go back home, watch the game and I’ll be, I hope, really proud of what I see, really enthused by the players delivering a brilliant product to watch for our supporters.
“The excitement stuff doesn’t really exist in this job because you know there’s just another game and another challenge and it won’t stop even if we hit our goal. There’ll just be another challenge and it will hit us in the face next season.”
Liverpool’s seven-game winning run had piled the pressure on the Magpies, although it is Jurgen Klopp’s men who now have little or no margin for error.
However, Howe said: “We’re not looking at any other teams or trying to make any sort of statement, we just needed to win for us and that will be the same against Leicester.”
For Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi, there was disappointment as he was forced to make changes to the side which beat Arsenal at the weekend, although they too have a prize within their grasp.
The Seagulls are currently sixth on 58 points, one clear of Tottenham and Aston Villa but with a game in hand.
De Zerbi, whose team host Southampton and Manchester City before finishing the campaign with a trip to Villa, said: “I think we will be able to qualify anyway for Europe.
“We have to win two games. We will play in our stadium and with our fans in our stadium, we play with 12 players.
“It is a difficult period, but to qualify for Europe, we have to be stronger than everything because if we do, we reach a historic target, a big target, and we have right motivation and energy.”