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Jamaal Lascelles has played himself into Eddie Howe’s long-term plans at Newcastle after stepping back into the firing line amid an injury crisis.
The 30-year-old defender found himself part of the supporting cast as head coach Howe, armed with the spending power of the club’s new Saudi-backed owners, embarked upon a spending spree which has to date seen them invest around £400million in the squad.
Sven Botman’s £32million arrival from Lille in particular left the Magpies’ club captain largely sitting on the bench, but the injury which saw the Dutchman miss almost three months of football handed the former Nottingham Forest man a chance he grasped with both hands in the final year of his existing contract.
Asked if he wanted Lascelles to stay, Howe said: “I’m sure contract talks with Jamaal… I’m just trying to wrack my brain as to where his contract is at, but I think he is part of our long-term future, for sure.”
Botman’s misfortune struck when he suffered a knee injury in September which sidelined him until he came on as a late substitute in a 3-0 Premier League win over Fulham on December 16.
In his absence, Howe turned to Lascelles and got exactly the response for which he had hoped as he stepped in alongside Fabian Schar and played his part in a Carabao Cup victory over European champions Manchester City and a 4-1 Champions League demolition of Paris St Germain.
In doing so, he demonstrated just how hard he had worked in training to be able to deliver the kind of football Howe demands of his central defenders and produce his best form to date for the club.
Howe said: “Jamaal has done really, really well this season and his game has come on in lots of ways.
“Firstly, defensively, he has always been very strong aerially and you saw that recently against Fulham. His defensive understanding of what we want him to do has been very good from day one.
“His use of the ball has improved, he looks really comfortable in the team at the moment, and he’s playing some really good football.”
However, Lascelles is facing a race against time to face former club Forest on Boxing Day after limping out of Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Luton before half-time.
Howe remained coy over his skipper’s injury after the game and he will be assessed with Botman, who replaced him at Kenilworth Road, standing by to start a league fixture for the first time since the 8-0 win at Sheffield United on September 24.