Newcastle v Birmingham City - TOTT preview
Visitors for this afternoon are League Cup winners, Birmingham City. As a home point sees Newcastle safe, so the visitors need a win for the same luxury.
Being on the verge of safety has led to a relatively quiet week on Tyneside, injuries aside. Some long term injured have been ruled out for the season, ben Arfa and Smith among them. Some others are also ruled out, notably Williamson after a bizarre gym injury.
Transfer expectations for the summer seem to have been dampened, with the pre-match gossip centring on whether the full £35m will be made available, plus of course profit from this season, or whether the SportsDirect@stjamespark.con policy will be to scour the bargain basement for makeweights.
After a lacklustre performance last weekend at Liverpool, when the manager quite rightly predicted humiliation of his club, it seems that it is only pride to play for, as well as the matter of a few million pounds for places. Defeat could leave the home side at the lowest position since October, which would be a hugely poor reflection on the manager and those who appointed him. Pardew`s contribution has been to deflect from his record as the worst top flight manager in Newcastle history, judged by win percentage, and claim that he will lead us to cup success.
As for the team, one position where there are choices is in goal. Krul has done little wrong, and frankly could not have done more against Liverpool. Harper is however fit, and officially the number 1.
Defensively, Williamson`s injury could be the lucky break that Steve Taylor needs, having featured rarely since signing a lucrative contract extension. Enrique should figure, his contract up in the air with strong rumours surrounding his own future, with Simpson seemingly set to continue next year now his potential suitors are in the mire. Coloccini is another who cold buy himself out of his contract next year if the club do not act.
Midfield seems similarly predictable, Jonas the player capable of turning defence into attack, Tiote on the threshold of a ban for next season being one booking behind Robbie Savage`s premier league record. Nolan is the attacking option with Barton nominally on the right but with a roving role.
There are choices over who will form a part of the most cost effective strike force in the league, none of the contenders having cost a penny in transfer fees. The pair in the driving seat, with 1 goal in 4 games are Ameobi and Lovenkrands. This is a special anniversary for Kuqi, his last Premier League goal coming 5 years ago to the day. Ranger is, as ever, hungry to stake his claim to be the next number 23.
Having won the league Cup and qualifying for Europe next season, McLeish is looking for the revenue and transfer budget to match. His team should provide plenty of interest for the home support.
The back five are bound to include England keeper ben Foster. Formerly retired Irish international, and former Magpie, Steve Carr captains the side from right back, with utility defender Ridgewell on the other side. The central pair should be Johnson , who played with both Williamson and Steve Taylor at Wycombe, and the only member of the back five not from the British Isles, Jiranek.
Midfield gives home supporters the chance to run the rule over Seb Larsson, touted for a move to the North east during the summer.Scottish international Ferguson, once a Toon target allegedly, pairs up with another former Magpie as the detrsuctive and counter attacking options, with Beausjour the likely left sided player. Bentley, who the Brummies outbid the Toon for in January is also pushing for a recall, or perhaps throwing a tanny might be a better description after last weekend, in the absence of the suspended Gardner.
The striking options could provide a vocal encouragement to the home support. Kevin Phillips, former Mackem, is enjoying his run in the side, Cameron Jerome his likely partner. Zigic is likely to be a game short of a comeback.
Referee for the event is Chris Foy, one of the Premier League`s best. This will be his 5th Toon match of the season, with 2 defeats against top sides, a win at West Ham and a draw with mid table Bolton, so apparently not one to rock the boat. After an initial defeat at West Brom, the visitors have 2 wins and a draw under him.
At the end of the day, the result will probably depend on who wants it most. Home players have points to prove after 1 home win in 4 months. The visitors are not safe yet. This could be one of those tepid end of season encounters where the happiest people in the ground are the ones counting the gate receipts, as well as the Premier League revenues for next season.
Newcastle (from): Harper, Krul, Simpson, Ferguson, Enrique, Coloccini, S. Taylor, R. Taylor, Tiote, Barton, Gutierrez, Nolan, Vuckic, Tavernier, Richardson, Lovenkrands, Ameobi, Ranger, Kuqi.
Birmingham (from): Foster, Carr, Johnson, Jiranek, Ridgewell, Parnaby, Larsson, Ferguson, Bowyer, Jerome, Phillips, Doyle, Hleb, Fahey, Derbyshire, Mutch, Davies, Bentley, Beausejour.