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Eddie Howe has challenged Joe Willock to force his way into England boss Gareth Southgate’s plans as he helps spearhead Newcastle’s bid for Champions League qualification.
The 23-year-old turned in a fine individual display in Sunday’s 2-1 Premier League win over Wolves to signal a return to top form, and Magpies head coach Howe is convinced he has what it takes to play on the senior international stage.
He said: “That definitely should be an aim of his. I think he had the potential to do it.
“For Joe, he has areas to improve, as all players do in the squad. It is there for him. He is young enough and he has potential to grow.
“Since my time here, he has been excellent and his game has improved. I think he has got more to go. He can get more goals, he can assist more, especially the position he is playing in, he has those moments and chances.
“The goal he scored against Chelsea was a brilliant finish, and if he can add a few more moments like that to his game, he will be knocking on the door.”
Former Under-21 international Willock sealed a £25million switch to St James’ Park from Arsenal in August 2021 after a stunning loan spell during which he scored eight goals in 14 appearances, seven of them in the final seven games of the campaign.
Last season was tougher for him, but his energy and industry have proved key to Newcastle’s bid for a top-four finish this time around, a quest which continues at Nottingham Forest on Friday evening.
Howe said: “He can get around the pitch brilliantly, he dovetails into a wide area for us too, natural rotation into those areas. That versatility to his game is key, he is not a one-dimensional player at all.”
The trip to the City Ground will pitch the Magpies into battle with one familiar face in the shape of midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, but not another, Chris Wood, who is ineligible under the terms of his loan agreement, with both having left Tyneside for Forest in January.
Howe, who was a reluctant seller, said: “Jonjo last year and Chris played a huge role in keeping us in the league. At a really difficult moment for the football club, both players really stood up and excelled.
“That’s not forgotten by me or anyone connected with the club, I’m sure.”
Howe will be without the suspended Joelinton again, while attacker Anthony Gordon is facing a race against time to be fit after the international break after a scan revealed his ankle injury could be more problematic than first thought.
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