The Magpies travel to the City Ground this Friday evening (2nd December) to take on a Forest side for the first time in over five years but this time the stakes are even higher.
It was a chilly night in September 2011 when Newcastle United and Nottingham Forest last met. Despite a seven-goal thriller in the Carling Cup (Newcastle winning 4-3 A.E.T), it was a somewhat underwhelming occasion as back then, under Pardew, Newcastle didn’t take the cups seriously and at the time Forest were trying to get to grips with life under Steve McClaren. When the two teams meet each other this time though, there is an awful lot more to play for.
Newcastle go into the game on the back of two straight losses against Blackburn Rovers and Hull City; albeit after taking the Tigers to penalties in the EFL Cup quarter-final. This hasn’t happened to Newcastle since the opening two matches of the season so Rafa Benitez will be very eager to see a response from his team. It would be fairly extreme to say that confidence is low in the black and white camp but that doesn’t mean there is no pressure – there most certainly is after the Blackburn and Hull games. This season, the squad have not been used to losing football matches so will certainly be determined to put things right.
Also, winning this fixture would extend the lead at the top of the Championship to five points, with Brighton playing the day after with a tricky tie away at Cardiff. The Seagulls are currently on the back of a 10 match unbeaten run and their promotion push is firmly on track. Their consistency under ex-Toon boss Chris Hughton is certainly to be respected and just like when Newcastle lost to Blackburn, you know Brighton will be there to capitalize when the teams above them slip up. The excellent form of Brighton puts a lot more weight on this fixture for Newcastle – the Championship is beginning to develop into a two-horse race and a win on Friday for Newcastle would reassert their dominance in the league. Benitez’s side won nine league games in a row prior to Blackburn which was enough to propel Newcastle to the top of the league but another defeat on Friday would certainly ramp up the pressure.
In contrast, Newcastle’s opponents for Friday night are currently lurking towards the bottom end of the table in 17th. Forest have had a rather topsy-turvy season so far under Frenchman Philippe Montanier but have steadied the shape in recent games. Two consecutive away wins over Ipswich and Barnsley mean the Reds’ will be going into the game with hope and Forest simply need the points to get out of the tight position they’re in. Montanier’s men are only four points above the relegation zone, yet at the same time, a win on Friday could put them as high as 10th. This means it’s not just Newcastle that will be desperately fighting it out for the points, adding that extra edge to the game. Forest have picked up four home league wins this season, hoping to make it a fifth on Friday at the City Ground, in front of a sell-out Newcastle following.
The Forest v Newcastle clash will also be the first of what is often a crucial month in the football calendar. December is the busiest of the campaign, making it difficult but yet important for Newcastle not to drastically slip up. Following the Forest game, the Magpies face Birmingham at home, trips to Wigan and Burton, Sheffield Wednesday at St James’ followed by Forest again at home at the end of the month. It would be unlikely for the Magpies to take maximum points over this busy period, so getting the festive month off to a winning start would be a weight off the shoulders and a big pressure release. Newcastle this season have enjoyed their success in long consecutive spells, so clinching maximum points in Nottingham could again be the catalyst for another winning run for the Geordies.
Feature Image Credit: Yellow Book Limited