Birmingham City v Newcastle United, TOTT preview
St Andrews plays host to a clash rearranged from mid December, with 2 teams in mid table with differing trends. Who will be in the top half at the end of the night?
How fortunes have changed since the original date for the fixture! Birmingham were in despair with 3 wins in 17 games. Their return since has seen them only beaten by the 2 teams at the top of the table out of 10 league and FA cup games, including 5 wins to go with a 2 leg League Cup semi final victory. Newcastle are without a win in 6, the West Ham and Arsenal matches disguising a yield of only 5 goals in the other 8 games.
Birmingham City strengthened in all outfield departments during the transfer window. Newcastle on the other hand have sent the young defensive cover on loan, jettisoned the only genuine right winger and lost the services of both Carroll and Xisco up front. This is after a close season when Birmingham were held up as the Toon`s model for survival.
So Pardew comes into this match knowing that, the Liverpool game aside for which he had been in charge for 24 hours, his 20% win record places him as the lowest of Newcastle`s permanent managers. He will surely be rousing his troops to perform, knowing that a defeat will take the Toon into the bottom half of the table.
Once again, the team picks itself, with Harper in goal and Simpson seemingly recovered from the knock that saw him replaced by defensive cover, James perch, against Blackburn, Williamson and Coloccini will continue, while the manager has highlighted that contract talks are on hold with Enrique.
The midfield motivators of Barton on the right and Nolan in the middle, with another transfer target for other clubs, Tiote only 1 booking away from a further suspension. Jonas, maintains his position on the left. Incidentally, Nolan seeks to end his longest barren run since the start of last season, with what would be his 50th Premier League goal, after all, he will be able to celebrate since someone else will be driving him home.
The option remains open to play 5 across the middle, a formation which has consistently failed the team, most recently in the first half against Arsenal. That could lead to a recall for Guthrie, or Lovenkrands pulled back to the unnatural right wing, Ranger being the alternaive striker. Leon Best has had the manager`s ear since "banging on the door" and is the top scorer in the last 14 premier league games, with 4 from his 6 starts.
McLeish will be pleased with his renascent Birmingham, having climbed out of the relegation zone and seeing his team win the last two, both with clean sheets that are a testament to England keeper, Ben Foster, who has at times fallen to the England keeper error bug, most recently in the league Cup semi.
A familiar face in defence is captain, Steve Carr, rejuvenated since his retirement from the Toon. Johnson and Ridgewell provide height in a back line that has started to include the Czech stalwart, Jiranek, yet to be on the losing side in 7 domestic appearances.
Midfield provides some intriguing viewing, with Newcastle window target, Larsson set to line up against his potential employers next term. New signing from Spurs, Bentley will be keen to show what we missed out on, with yet another former Toon target, veteran ex-Ranger Barry Ferguson adding to the midfield grit. Craig Gardner is expected to complete the quartet with Lee Bowyer starting on the bench.
Up front, Zigic has shown in the last three games how effective a big striker can be, scoring in each of them. The unpredictable Obafemi Martins will want to remind Newcastle supporters of some of his greatest moments, having scored 2 more goals in his time at St James` than the departed Andy Carroll and 6 more than the combined fit Newcastle strike force. On the bench is another player who would surely love to put one over on his old foes, Kevin Phillips and former Smoggy, Cameron Jerome also itching to play a part.
Referee for the evening is Lee Mason, last seen by Newcastle supporters in the home win against Liverpool, the first victory under him in 6 appearances, with 3 draws and 2 defeats. His Birmingham record is 2 draws and 3 defeats, the latest being a 1-1 against Manchester United.
Birmingham have shown more form in recent games, combined with Jnuary reinforcements suggesting that they might start as the bookies` favourites. Everything else points to a draw, not least the fact that these two teams have finished with honours even at St Andrew`s I their last 5 meetings, one of those being in the FA Cup. Newcastle are unbeaten on this ground in the Premier League years, the last top flight home win coming back in 1977.
After the roller coaster ride of this season so far, the one thing for certain with the clustering of teams in the bottom half of the table is that Newcastle can surely not afford to lose.
Newcastle at St Andrew`s:
P5 W1 D4 L0 F6 A4
P51 W13 D14 L24 F66 A87
Birmingham (from): Foster, Carr, Johnson, Jiranek, Davies, Ridgewell, Bentley, Gardner, Ferguson, Bowyer, Jerome, Zigic, Martins, Doyle, Parnaby, Murphy, Fahey, Larsson, Hleb, Beausejour, Mutch, Phillips, Derbyshire.
Newcastle (from): Harper, Krul, Simpson, Perch, Ferguson, Enrique, Coloccini, Williamson, Campbell, Tiote, Barton, Nolan, Gutierrez, Guthrie, Vuckic, Richardson, Lovenkrands, Best, Ranger, Kuqi.