Newcastle United are back in action at St James’ Park this weekend (Sat 10th December) when they play host to Birmingham City, 3pm kick-off.
It’s been a tough old couple of weeks for Rafa Benitez and his men after three consecutive defeats following the controversial and somewhat unlucky defeat against Nottingham Forest live on Sky last week. The visitors played over half the match with nine men and inevitably Forest knicked the three points late on. Unfortunately, a feud between supporters from both clubs has developed over social media regarding the red card incidents but the fact is that Newcastle fans must move on – it’s in the past now and the outcome of a Forest win cannot be changed. Move on.
Benitez will be eager and restless to get a result at home to Birmingham and stop the rot, however, United still remain top of the table thanks to Brighton drawing with relegation-threatened Cardiff last weekend. Our visitors have had an impressive campaign to date – currently sitting fifth in the table, so another tough enduring 90 minutes is to be expected on Tyneside following the last match there against Blackburn.
As far as “young managers” come these days, current Brummie boss Gary Rowett is certainly up there as one of the most promising. The 42-year-old is in his second professional managerial role now after a playing career spanning 16 years from 1991 to 2007 featuring clubs such as Everton, Birmingham, Burton and Leicester. In his first pro job, Rowett led then-League 2 side Burton Albion to fourth and sixth places in his time there from 2012 to 2014, following a three-year spell as assistant manager. In October 2014 though, Rowett swapped Burton for Birmingham and led the team from 21st in the table to a 10th placed finish. Now in his second season at St Andrew’s. the blues are sitting healthily in the play-off places. In the 104 matches in charge of the West Midlands’ club, Rowett has won 41, drawn 32 and lost 31 – a fairly impressive effort on a sub-standard budget. There is certainly a prolonged career ahead in the dug-out for this man.
Again, Newcastle are expected to go with the 4-2-3-1 but there are still question marks on who will make the final eleven. The big news this week was the overturning of Jonjo Shelvey and Paul Dummett’s sending’s off from the game at the City Ground, both are expected to appear. But after three consecutive defeats, it makes it a lot harder to predict who will feature on Saturday – Yedlin, Lascelles and Clark all shone against Forest, so should keep their places. In midfield, Isaac Hayden may be rested as Jack Colback is expected to make a full recovery from a mysterious eye injury that has forced him to miss the last three games. Matt Ritchie should keep his place after netting his third league goal of the season at Forest on the opposite wing to Gouffran. What Benitez does up front begs the real questions, will he continue with Gayle and Perez or give Mitrovic and Diame a go? Birmingham have height and strength along their back four, which sways me to think the boss will continue with Gayle up front, and leave Mitrovic as an option from the bench.
Similarly, Birmingham may employ the 4-2-3-1 formation on Saturday but it would be for the first time since the opening game of the season. Since that opening day 0-0 draw with Cardiff, Rowett has preferred playing two up front usually in the form of Clayton Donaldson (below) and Lukas Jutkiewicz (both joint top-scorers with five each) in a 4-4-2. The visitors will also be without one of their key midfielders, David Davis, after he saw red in their last match against Barnsley, where they lost 3-0 and will begin the first of a three-match suspension. The absence of the versatile Davis, who has played all over midfield this season, may be enough to persuade Rowett to revert back to a more stable 4-2-3-1 formation rather than facing the risk of being left open in the middle of the park especially when playing away at Newcastle when goal-scoring opportunities will be infrequent.
Players to watch
Clayton Donaldson (Birmingham)
As mentioned already, the Blues’ striker has got five goals to his name so far in the Championship, being partnered alongside Jutkiewicz in the last few weeks. The 32-year-old missed the second half of September and into October because of an Achilles injury but is now just about back to fitness and will be looking to extend his goal tally at St James’. The Jamaican arrived at Birmingham in the summer of 2014 and has scored 31 goals in 95 appearances following spells at Brentford, Hibbs, Crewe and York. He offers strength on the ground and in the air and can be a threat from set-pieces.
Matt Ritchie (Newcastle)
Although the winger told the local press before the Forest match that he “hadn’t been at the races” in recent weeks, the Scotsman still has plenty to offer Newcastle going forward. His goal at the City Ground on Friday typified exactly what he can do offensively with a bullet left-footed goal from fairly close-range. Hopefully this a sign of similar things to come from Ritchie as he hopes to win promotion for the second time in three seasons after achieving it with Bournemouth in 2014/15. He is also a key threat from dead ball situations, with a dangerous left foot that has caused uncertainty in Championship defences on many occasions this season. Against Birmingham, the 27-year-old should be a guaranteed starter and is certainly one to look out for.
Last 7 games in the league:
Newcastle – WWWWWLL
Birmingham – WLDDWWL
Last time out – Newcastle 2-1 Birmingham (May 2011), Goals from Shola Ameobi (penalty) and a trademark Steven Taylor goal from a corner sealed three points.
The game kicks off this Saturday, 10th December 3pm and won’t be broadcasted live on Sky or BT Sport.
Feature Image Credit – Yellow Book Limited