Jamal Lewis has admitted he understands the frustrations of Newcastle fans after a slow start to the season but still believes the Magpies are good enough to finish in the top half of the Premier League.
Steve Bruce’s men have taken only one point from their opening three league matches, losing at home to West Ham and away at Aston Villa before exchanging late goals with Southampton in a 2-2 draw last time out.
Though fans are back at St James’ Park this season and turning up in their usual numbers, results have done little to ease long-standing discontent on Tyneside.
“Of course you have to understand the underlying frustrations,” Lewis told the PA news agency. “Without the fans the game would be nothing so you have to respect their feelings and understand where they’re coming from.
“As a player, I’m only in control of a certain amount of things, my performance on the pitch and how I can affect my team-mates and help get results on the pitch.”
Fans have long been dismayed by a perceived lack of investment in the club under owner Mike Ashley, with their frustrations hardly eased by a quiet transfer window in which the only signing was Joe Willock – back after last season’s loan from Arsenal to leave Bruce with the same first-team squad.
The Magpies managed 12th place last season, though they were 10 points off 11th and only six above 17th. But they did that despite injuries to key players Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin, and Lewis believes Newcastle have the resources to look higher this season.
“I think this team is capable of an easy top-half finish, stringing performances together that the fans love,” he said.
“Obviously with the fans coming back, being strong at home and hard to beat, we can create some great memories this season.
“I think the top half is a viable target for us. But executing it is different. We need to talk less and string these performances together.”
Lewis, who contracted coronavirus in the second half of last season and then had a hernia operation at the end of the campaign, has been limited to one League Cup appearance for Newcastle this term, but was one of only two players to feature in both of Northern Ireland’s wins last week.
He is also expected to be on the team-sheet when Switzerland visit Windsor Park on Wednesday in a crunch World Cup qualifier.
Any meeting with the Swiss brings back painful memories for Northern Ireland after the controversial penalty which ended their bid to reach the 2018 World Cup four years ago, but Lewis – yet to make his debut at that time – said it is not a grudge match.
“I watched both of the games on TV and saw how tight it was,” he said. “It’s been discussed how close we are to qualifying for the big competitions. We know where the level is.
“Switzerland are a top team who have kicked on in terms of getting to international tournaments. That’s the level we need to aspire to as a national team. We’ve seen we can compete with them but we need to do it on a more consistent basis.”
Sixteen thousand fans are due to be back at Windsor Park, close to capacity after 18 months in which most games were played behind closed doors, and only modest numbers attended the others.
“I love playing at Windsor Park so much,” Lewis said. “I don’t know how such a small crowd generate so much noise. The boost they give us is honestly like a 12th man on the pitch.
“We’re all looking forward to using them as a driving force to getting a great result.”
:: Jamal Lewis is a proud ambassador of McDonald’s Fun Football. To find your local session head to www.mcdonalds.co.uk/football