TOTT Preview, Birmingham City away
Newcastle visit Birmingham City, a club that was held up by NUFC management as an example for survival on a return to the Premier League. This will be an opportunity to compare progress.
During the close season, the strong message from the Newcastle United hierarchy was that Birmingham had survived admirably last season with minimal spending. In fact, City`s spending last season was roughly 3 times what the Newcastle board actually spent in this summer, the City total again being over twice as high this year.
This is the Toon`s 2nd consecutive away fixture in the West Midlands, not having lost at St Andrew`s in the Premier League. This provides reason to be wary, having been beaten by West Brom for the first time over the same period. The set up of a Hughton team may have inspired confidence against the sort of side that Mcleish prepares. It remains to be seen what the Perdue influence will be.
McLeish has become something of a fixture at Birmingham since the departure of Ashington born Steve Bruce, gaining a reputation for hard working snappy football. His home defensive record is admirable, with only 6 goals against in 8 games, thanks in part to England international keeper, Ben Foster who looks set to play despite a flu outbreak in the City camp.
Leading the team from defence we expect to see former Newcastle right back, the once retired Steve Carr. Left back could see Hartlepool born former Smoggy David Murphy, with a permutation in the centre from local lad Scott Dann, Liam Ridgewell or Roger Johnson.
Midfield provides some interesting options, not least former and Perdue signing for West Ham, Lee Bowyer. The London connection could be continued on the right with one of former Arsenal pair, Hleb or Seb Llarson who terrorised the Toon at St James` a few years ago. Scottish international Barry Ferguson was rumoured to be a Newcastle target, with Irishman Fahey also pressing. Another local lad, top league scorer Gardner will also be fighting for a place.
Up front seems to be fairly straight forward, with the huge Yuogoslavian Zigic almost bound to play, another former Smoggy in the unpredictable Cameron Jerome also set to start. Visiting supporters will welcome the opportunity to voice an opinion on any cameo role played by former Mackem, Kevin Phillips.
Perdue has hinted that he may make some tweaks to the squad, whether that is tactical or in personnel remains to be seen. Although it is always hard to change a winning team, injury and return to availability may bring a couple of changes.
The return to fitness of Steve Harper means that the selection problems start from the back, although to drop Tim Krul for a medium term absentee would be harsh on the younger keeper.
Simpson has done enough to keep his place at right back, with Enrique arguably the performer of the season on the left side. Campbell is a doubt through illness and form, while Steve Taylor has not signed his new contract. Either or both of Coloccini and Williamson could therefore return in the middle following suspension, the latter a probability to counter the height of Zigic.
Perdue has been full of praise for the senior midfielders, Barton and Nolan. They therefore look set to continue. Tiote has proved to be the Toon`s signing of the summer, improving with every game, probably shunting Barton out to the right unless a 4-5-1 is adopted. Jonas remains the most likely starter on the left unless the new manager has seen enough of the youngsters in training.
Up front, Carroll is a certain starter having drawn the early attention of Perdue. As joint 2nd top scorer in this league it is hard to see beyond young Andy leading the line. Shola, who scored ahis 2nd away league goal at this ground, is a doubt following his substitution due to hamstring problems on Sunday, with Ranger having made an early impression for a starting role and his full Premier League debut. Lovenkrands is also on stand by.
Referee for the occasion is Mike Jones, whose last two Newcastle matches this season both involved Toon defeats as did his other Premier League fixture 2 years ago at Man City. In fact, the Magpies have lost every Premier league played under Jones, despite a Championship 4-0 away win against a team that play in the same colours as City, Ipswich Town.
Being just down the M6 from Jones` Chester home, Birmingham have seen a lot more of him, both of their defeats in 13 matches being away. At home they have only dropped 4 points in 21 under him, so will be sure to give him a welcome reception.
Although the referee performance would suggest a home win more likely, form and the Premier League record suggests that a 6th consecutive draw in all competitions between these two should be on the cards. Birmingham have won as many at home as Newcastle have away in this league season. Travelling supporters will be hoping for more although City have only lost once at home this season, and indeed once at home in their last 23 Premier League games.
Newcastle at St Andrew`s:
5 W1 D4 L0 F6 A4
51 W13 D14 L24 F66 A87
irmingham (from): Foster, Carr, Murphy, Bowyer, Johnson, Ridgewell, Larsson, Gardner, Jerome, Ferguson, Doyle, Dann, Madera, Fahey, Zigic, Valles, Parnaby, Beausejour, O'Shea, Redmond, Jiranek, Phillips.
ewcastle (from): Harper, Krul, Simpson, Perch, Ferguson, Enrique, Coloccini, Williamson, S. Taylor, Campbell, Kadar, Barton, Tiote, Smith, Routledge, Gutierrez, Guthrie, Nolan, Vuckic, Tavernier, Donaldson, Carroll, Lovenkrands, Ranger, Xisco.