Eddie Howe has told Newcastle to play without fear as they attempt to strengthen their grip on Champions League football by denting that of Tottenham.
The two sides meet at St James’ Park on Sunday with the fourth-placed Magpies three points clear of Spurs in fifth, having played a game fewer and with a significantly better goal difference.
Victory for Howe’s men would edge them a step closer to a top-four finish and the rewards that would bring just 17 months into the head coach’s reign, and while that opportunity may have arrived sooner than expected he wants his players to grasp it with both hands.
The 45-year-old said: “It’s what we crave as professional sportspeople. You want the big games, you want the big occasions and and you want it to mean something, so we’re determined to express ourselves in the best way possible.
“We want the occasion to galvanise us. We don’t want to play with any fear or restraints, we want to give the best us.”
Given the respective standings of the two teams, a draw on Sunday would be a better result for the hosts than the visitors, although Howe insists that does not even enter his thinking as he prepares his team to bounce back from last week’s disappointing 3-0 defeat at Aston Villa.
He said: “We play to win. That is a key part of the way I believe the game should be played so home or away, whatever situation, we play to win.”
The reverse at Villa, which came courtesy of an unusually tepid display, was just Newcastle’s fourth in the league this season and served as something of a wake-up call.
Howe said: “There are ways to lose, and I think the optimum way to lose is you perform very well and you’re unlucky to experience defeat. Against Aston Villa, that was probably not the case.
“We felt we didn’t perform and we lost, and that’s the worst taste of defeat that you can have, so that’s why we’re fiercely determined to try to respond this weekend.”
As a result, a game which already looked potentially pivotal has assumed even greater proportions.
“It’s a cliche, but it is our next game so it is the most important. It’s what’s ahead of us that’s the most important, it’s not what’s behind.
“We have risen to these types of games this season and we can reflect back on other key moments of the season. Hopefully we can find another gear again.”