Stoke v Newcastle TOTT Preview
The Toon visit the Potteries at a ground where no Newcastle side has yet lost hoping for a change in fortunes. Which Stoke will turn up, the FA Cup success story or the faltering league team?
Having achieved blanket coverage in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Pardew has yet to face the awkward question about why his team has only won once in 9 games. How much more tactical naivety has to be displayed before his honeymoon period is over? The shambolic formations deployed against Everton, if repeated, could lead to a point-less March.
The only Newcastle win in over 10 weeks was against Birmingham City, the team which later qualified for Europe via the Carling Cup. Stoke are only one game away from an FA Cup final appearance and probable Europa League qualification, despite a run of only 2 wins in 8 league games, the last of those against Sunderland at the Britannia.
Whichever side win today, if either, should start to be looking safe in the top half of the table. Defeat brings the chasing pack of form teams below them within reach.
Pardew`s team selection starts at the back, with Harper seemingly the goalkeeping choice both for now and the start of next season. The furtures of understudies krul and Forster have yet to be decided.
The back four could see some change, Enrique apparently struggling to recover from the injury which saw him leave the field against the Toffees. Williamson and Coloccini look set for the middle, but the left back slot could go to any one of Simpson, Jonas or Shane Ferguson. The price is finally being paid for failure to find cover, apart from on loan Kadar, in numerous transfer windows. Perch is also a possibility to face the in form Pennant. Simpson, Perch and Steve Taylor are also options for right back.
Midfield also presents problems for once, despite the number of players on the books. Routledge is of course away on loan, with Barton having filled in on the right but also doubtful. Ryan Taylor who has also done the job remains suspended with Ireland yet to be it since his loan spell started. Despite the doubts out wide, the central core of Tiote and Nolan are both fit, but neither can afford a booking, being on 9 yellows each for the season.
There are choice up front. Recently, Best and Lovenkrands have been preferred, although the latter could be once again asked to fill in on either flank. Ameobi, who played a part on loan during Stoke`s promotion season, would surely relish the chance to stake his own claim. Ranger will value another run out as Kuqi seeks his first Premier League away goal since Boxing Day 2005.
Tony Pulis has worked wonders with this squad which includes a number of North East rejects and once again faces a goalkeeping dilemma, whether to stick with the cup keeper and former Mackem, Sorenson, or recall the giant Yugoslav, Begovic.
Abdoulaye Faye is a doubt against his former club against who he scored his first Stoke goal. Captain Shawcross leads his side from the back, with ex Smoggy, Huth set to start alongside him. More Mackems are available in the shape of the two Dannys, Higginbotham and Collins.
Given Newcastle`s defensive selection uncertainties, Pulis may opt to stretch the visitors on what is a narrow pitch. If so, the in form Pennant and former Pardew protégé Etherington can be expected to start, with yet another Mackem, Irishman Delap, always guaranteed his place. There are a host of potential partners from the Emerald Isle to keep him company, not least Marc Wilson and Glenn Whelan.
A familiar figure up front is Kenwynne Jones, used to paying in red and white stripes. On loan Carew is likely to miss out, as is Sidibe, leaving Walters and Fuller to battle it out for the last striking slot.
Referee for the occasion is Lee Mason, in charge for the last Newcastle win just down the M6 as well as the Liverpool match at St James. 3 of his last 4 outings with Stoke have resulted in draws.
This is a hard match to predict, the referee selection making a draw seem most likely. With the Toon`s last defeat in Stoke being over 30 years ago but with 6 draws in the last 9 visits. A draw would be a good result for the visitors with the amount of players out or doubtful, but should be achievable whilst the hosts bask in their cup glory.
Newcastle record at Stoke
P40 W9 D12 L19 F38 A59
P31 W7 D9 L15 F26 A47
Stoke (from): Begovic, Sorensen, Huth, Wilson, Delap, Faye, Etherington, Whitehead, Jones, Collins, Fuller, Pugh, Whelan, Pennant, Wilkinson, Walters, Shawcross, Higginbotham, Diao, Shotton.
Newcastle (from): Harper, Krul, Simpson, Perch, Ferguson, Enrique, Coloccini, Williamson, Campbell, S. Taylor, Tiote, Barton, Nolan, Gutierrez, Guthrie, Vuckic, Richardson, Lovenkrands, Best, Ameobi, Ranger, Kuqi.