Newcastle United's Callum Wilson celebrates after the match Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith/File Photo
(Reuters) - This time last year even a diehard Newcastle United optimist might have scoffed at the idea that 12 months on the club would be third in the Premier League and providing three players to Gareth Southgate's World Cup squad.
With Newcastle still seeking a first win of the season, next to bottom in the table, and the club's new Saudi-backed owners yet to flex their financial muscle in the transfer market, top-flight survival was the only thing on anyone's mind.
How fortunes can change.
Eddie Howe's side host a struggling Chelsea on Saturday knowing victory would put them nine points above the Londoners and keep them behind only Arsenal and Manchester City as the Premier League shuts down for a month.
They will go into that game with confidence sky high, none more so than striker Callum Wilson who on Thursday was included, along with keeper Nick Pope and right back Kieran Trippier, in Southgate's 26-man squad that will fly to Qatar next week.
The 30-year-old Wilson earned four caps under Southgate in 2018 and 2019 when he was under Howe at Bournemouth and might have thought that was that as far as his international career.
But his form has been one of the reasons for Newcastle's extraordinary rise. He has six Premier League goals this season and offers Southgate an ideal alternative to Harry Kane, although his history of injuries will be a worry.
"Callum had a difficult career. It has not always been about successes. He's risen from the lower leagues to the national side for a World Cup," Howe told reporters on Friday.
"It has been brilliant to witness first hand, and when you see how it has been achieved, the dedication and consistency of his work, a positive mindset.
"Even when he was out injured, his first instinct was 'I'm going to come back better'. It is not just talk, he delivers."
Wilson is a slight doubt for the clash with Chelsea after an illness meant he missed this week's League Cup penalty shootout victory over Crystal Palace.
"He's been training separately from the group this week. He had an illness so he's been away from the group. He's been working well but I need to make a decision on whether or not he's fit enough to play," Howe said.
The inclusion of Pope and Trippier, who is likely to start against Iran in England's World Cup opener, was expected but nonetheless having three players in the national squad fuels the belief that Newcastle could be on to something special.
"It's great for us. We're very pleased for our international players that we have created that environment. I'm delighted for those who have made it and disappointed for those internationals who haven't," Howe said.
Newcastle have lost only one of their opening 14 games and are on a four-match winning streak as they prepare to host a Chelsea side who have not won in four.
Howe said he will judge his side's progress after the final whistle on Saturday.
"I can only really look back at this part of the season after Chelsea. Then we'll analyse things and try to come back an even better team," he said.
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