Derby victory cuts through January transfer freeze as Newcastle forced to battle through

A new year emerged but it was the same old story for Newcastle United as they suffered another defeat on January 1. The Geordie faithful flocked to Merseyside for the late kick-off, battling through the New Year’s Eve-induced hangovers to support Eddie Howe’s struggling side.

Martin Dubravka was heroic at Anfield but was powerless to stop Liverpool running out 4-2 winners on the evening. The defeat left Newcastle slumped in ninth position, 11 points off the top four with 20 games gone.

Thankfully Howe’s men would bounce straight back next time out - and in arguably the biggest game of the season too. Newcastle travelled south of the river to take on arch rivals Sunderland in the first Tyne-Wear derby since 2016.

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After years of torment from the Black Cats following derby clashes, the bragging rights would this time return to Tyneside as Newcastle brushed Michael Beale’s men aside in the third round of the FA Cup. A Dan Ballard own goal and two strikes from Alexander Isak sealed the deal and gave the Magpies their first win since mid-December.

From a routine victory over a Championship side to one of the toughest fixtures in the calendar; the visit of Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s side arrived at St James’ Park as they hunted down a fourth consecutive title, with Newcastle seeking a result before they enjoyed a well-earned, two-week winter break.

Howe’s men almost snatched a point from the champions but teenage substitute Oscar Bobb popped up at the death to net a late winner for City at the Leazes End. Fellow substitute Kevin De Bruyne had helped himself to a goal earlier in the tie and put the winner on a plate for Bobb, sending the away fans wild.

Eleven senior players were missing for Newcastle on the night, forcing Howe into naming a bench consisting of two goalkeepers, two youth stars, four defenders and Matt Ritchie as the only recognised attacking option. Man City’s substitutes, on the other hand, were worth a combined £261m in transfer fees.

“I think what I’d say on our situation is that we love the players we have, it’s just unfortunately for us, all our attacking players are not available,” said Howe at full-time. “There are a lot of attacking players missing and, whenever you get that, you’re in a difficult situation.”

Howe had plenty of time to dissect the defeat as the mid-January window break rolled around. Whatever he told his players during the recess worked wonders, as United returned with a 2-0 FA Cup win over Fulham at Craven Cottage.

The month then ended on a big high as Newcastle went to high-flying Aston Villa and emerged with all three points. A 3-1 win on the road, against the odds, looked as though it could be a real turning point in the campaign after a Fabian Schar brace and an Alex Moreno own goal.

“It was mixed emotions for me because that team is an elite team,” Howe told TNT Sports. “The mixed part is that we haven’t seen that for a number of weeks. We looked much like ourselves and we have players coming back.”

Newcastle may have started to find their feet on the pitch during the first month of 2024, but away from the action there was little going on in terms of transfers.

After spending over £100m on new recruits in the summer, and with Financial Fair Play regulations biting, Howe and his transfer team decided against signing any players during the winter window.

Newcastle were linked with Kalvin Phillips, who ended up leaving Manchester City for West Ham United. A bullet dodged in hindsight. There was also minor speculation Ruben Neves could make a controversial move from Saudi Arabian PIF-owned side Al-Hilal.

In the end, only Manchester City youth prospect Alfie Harrison arrived at St James’ Park, joining on deadline day. Javier Manquillo left for Celta Vigo, while Isaac Hayden departed for a temporary spell at Queens Park Rangers.

Newcastle, thankfully, were not the only Premier League side to actively avoid partaking in a January spending spree, as top-flight spending regulations put the frighteners on even the biggest clubs.

Five teams did not make any signings whatsoever, and when excluding loan deals and free transfers, 10 sides clubs did not spend any money at all.