Joe Willock is convinced Newcastle can “beat any team in the world” as they look to bounce back from their first Champions League setback.
The Magpies went down 1-0 to Borussia Dortmund in torrential rain at St James’ Park on Wednesday evening on a night when they learned just how fine the margins can be at the elite level of club football.
After a hard-fought draw at AC Milan and a stunning 4-1 win over Paris St Germain, they now sit in joint second place with the Germans in Group F at the halfway stage, with both on four points, two behind leaders PSG, but facing back-to-back trips to Dortmund and Paris next month.
However, asked if they could thrive in those two intensely difficult fixtures, Willock said: “Yes, 100 per cent. We can beat any team in the world when we’re at our best, I actually believe that.
“We’re going to analyse this game and we’re going to look to go there and win the game.
“This is where we want to be. We want to compete at this level. This is Newcastle United and we have to compete at this level.
“We set out our targets at the start of the season and we want to reach them. We have a really tight group and a brilliant manager who will put us on the straight and narrow and we’ll continue pushing.”
Felix Nmecha’s goal on the stroke of half-time ultimately settled a pulsating encounter which Dortmund perhaps shaded, although they were indebted to both keeper Gregor Kobel, who made a vital second-half save from Callum Wilson, and the woodwork, which denied both Wilson and Anthony Gordon in a rousing conclusion.
Willock said: “We were just a bit disappointed that we couldn’t tuck away those chances. We’re competing at the highest level now. We’re going to analyse it, we’re going to look back at it and we’re not going to let it set us back too much.”
If dropped points were painful for Eddie Howe’s men, so too were injuries to striker Alexander Isak, who aggravated a groin problem he picked up on international duty with Sweden, and Jacob Murphy, who suffered a suspected dislocated shoulder just minutes after being introduced as a substitute.
With midfielder Sandro Tonali awaiting the outcome of an investigation into alleged breaches of betting rules which reports from Italy have suggested could see him banned for 10 months, Howe could be facing a selection crisis.
In the circumstances, Willock’s surprise return from the bench against Dortmund after hamstring and Achilles problems was a welcome boost.
The 24-year-old tore his hamstring during a 4-1 victory over Brighton on May 18 and was a frustrated bystander as Newcastle clinched a first Champions League campaign for 20 years after a 0-0 draw with Leicester four days later.
He said: “It was very hard to deal with. On one side, I was very happy for the team and I was over the moon that we achieved what we set out to do last season, and now we’re competing in the Champions League.
“But at the same time, I was disappointed to get injured. Even so, I’m back now and I’m looking to push on. I’m really happy to be back and I can help the team a lot.”