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Howe: "We've proved that we can compete with anybody in the division"

Written by Dan King

After three straight Premier League victories, head coach Eddie Howe says Newcastle United have proved that they can "compete with anybody in the division" in recent weeks.

But he has told his players that they need to maintain the same standards when they travel to Champions League-chasing West Ham United on Saturday (kick-off 12.30pm GMT).

The Magpies have won on three of their four previous four visits to the London Stadium, but the Hammers are enjoying another strong season under David Moyes and look capable of improving on their sixth-place finish from last term.

And Howe admitted: "I think David's done an incredible job; when you look at the league position West Ham were in (when he took over for a second time just over two years ago) and the noise surrounding the club at the time, he's done a brilliant job in calming everything down and just getting consistent results, which in turn has led to what looks like, from the outside, a very stable team with really good spirit within the squad.

"They've delivered on a consistent basis and they've had a number of games this season, and I think they've reacted really well to that as well, so full compliments to him and his staff and his players. 

"We know how difficult this game's going to be for us but on our recent run, with the confidence that we have, we know - and we've proved in recent games - that we can compete with anybody in the division.

"But we're going to need to hit our very best levels again, especially physically. In my opinion that's where we've excelled in the last few games - we're going to need to hit those levels again."

He added: "We know how momentum can change in football and how it can swing and we've got a lot of experience in the squad, so there's no complacency. We know that every game's hugely important so we know the benefits of winning and the players are very committed to giving their very best.

"Of course in the Premier League you come up against different tests every week. Different areas of your game are stretched and we know that this is going to be a big test for us because West Ham have very good attacking players and they're a big set play threat as well. So we're well aware of their strengths and we're going to need another good defensive performance from the team."

United have kept two clean sheets in their last three games, but Howe will be forced into making at least two changes to his defence, with Kieran Trippier suffering a fractured bone in his left foot in last weekend's win over Aston Villa and Javier Manquillo also ruled out.

"The update (on Trippier) is that he had his operation yesterday and that went well," explained Howe. "That was good news - I don't know at this moment in time how long he's going to be out, but we obviously hope to have him back before the end of the season. But it's a significant injury, which is a big blow to us because he was performing so well.

"It's an opportunity now for someone else to step up in his place, but certainly we're going to miss his leadership skills on the pitch and everything that he was delivering for us. He scored two goals in the last two games, which have been defining moments for us, but we're confident we have enough quality in the squad to cover.

"Manquillo went off in the same game after landing awkwardly on his ankle following a header. We don't think that's serious, but he will miss the game. But apart from that, we're sort of as we were."

Emil Krafth is expected to come in at right-back, and Howe has every faith in the Sweden international. "From starting to work with Emil, I really liked him as a person and as a player," said the head coach. "You go back to the Manchester United game, I thought he was outstanding that day for us both defensively and offensively.

"He's a really, really good athlete and he's a very good defender, so I'm delighted with Emil and delighted to have him in the squad. This is a good opportunity for him now to have a consistent run in the team."

Captain Jamaal Lascelles is back in contention after missing the Villa victory through illness and Matt Targett is available after he was ineligible to face his parent club last weekend, while Howe revealed that Matt Ritchie is "running again" and nearing a return to full training and added: "You want a squad that's pushing each other.

"I think whoever plays knows that if they they don't perform, there's a very good player waiting for their opportunity to get back in. That's the culture you want to create and probably I haven't had enough of those tough decisions in my short time as manager here, purely from the fact that the squad has been stretched at certain times with injury.

"But I think the squad's in a better place in terms of players are playing well and there is real competition now to get in that starting XI."

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