Newcastle head to Stoke this evening for what will be a very tough match against one of the leagues more ‘robust’ outfits. With it being Halloween the opportunities for puns are endless although I will try and refrain from overusing them. Promise.
Alan Pardew and his players will be looking to get back to winning ways after the Cup defeat to Blackburn on Tuesday. In truth we deserved to go out of that game thanks to some horror defending and ghoulish decisions from the referee on the night although the lads should be applauded for the supreme spirit they showed to get back into the match in stoppage time.
The downside is that Tony Pulis and his Stoke charges will also be looking to get back to winning ways in front of their home fans after going out of the Carling Cup at the hands of Liverpool in midweek which should make it an interesting game in prospect in front of a Worldwide TV audience.
Newcastle could come up against a familiar face this evening, in the shape of former defender Jonathan Woodgate. I know Marktoon will be harbouring a semi at the mere mention of his name, although I have to concede that when he was fit for us he was an excellent centre-back. His problem was keeping fit, and it has been for years.
In other Stoke team news, Jermaine Pennant is fit again and should be set to start after his midweek cameo although the same cannot be said for the one play who is more susceptible to injuries than Woodgate, Mamady Sidebe, who unfortunately suffered another serious injury against Liverpool. I’m sure you will all join me in wishing him a speedy recovery.
I expect some changes from Stoke for this game, like the reintroduction of Jermaine Pennant and Peter Crouch, although they lined up in midweek with a team consisting of:
Thomas Sorensen, Robert Huth, Ryan Shawcross, Ryan Shotton, Jonathan Woodgate, Glenn Whelan, Marc Wilson, Rory Delap, Matt Etherington, Kenwyne Jones, Jonathan Walters
The big news for Newcastle is the fitness of Cheik Tiote who seems likely to miss out after picking up a knee injury. Grated he is only rated as doubtful but his omission from the open training session on Friday would seem to suggest that he is struggling.
Steven Taylor should be fit to return with the aid of a mask to protect his broken nose, which is quite topical on Halloween and conjures up images of allsorts whilst Leon Best has a bout of tonsillitis although he should apparently be fine to feature. Shola Ameobi and Mike Williamson are both definitely out with respective hamstring and ankle injuries.
For the purposes of naming my team I’m going to go with the worst case scenario of Cheik Tiote missing out. I hope it isn’t the case but if it is I’d probably line up with a team a bit like this.
Tim Krul, Danny Simpson, Steven Taylor, Fabricio Coloccini, Ryan Taylor, Gabriel Obertan, Danny Guthrie, Yohan Cabaye, Jonas Gutierrez, Leon Best, Demba Ba
Obviously there are a few changes that could be made to that team. Leon Best could be replaced by Hatem Ben Arfa for a start. I know people will say about not playing him against Stoke, but you only have to see what Luis Suarez did to them in midweek to see that they can struggle against the more maverick player. Davide Santon could play instead of Simpson and instead of Danny Guthrie it could easily be Dan Gosling.
Facts and stats
Stoke have won only one league game from their last five whilst Newcastle are unbeaten in their last 12 league outings.
Of the four meetings in the Premier League Newcastle are yet to record a victory with only two draws to show for their efforts, and both of them came in the relegation season! In terms of results at the Britannia, I’ve been at both of the away games and was chuffed with the 1-1 draw three years ago and not so chuffed with the 4-0 I had to endure last season.
If we are to get anything from the game we will need to watch Stoke and their set play routines. Amazingly 71% of their goals have come from set pieces this season although they struggle to create in open play and have had the fewest shots on target (22) in the Premier League.
Newcastle have scored two fewer goals than at the same stage last season yet they have returned eight more points from the same amount of games.
The final say
It will be a tough game, of that there is no doubt. They’ve already drawn with Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham at the Britannia and managed to beat Liverpool in the league earlier on in the season. We’ve not won there in the league for 26 seasons either which is a stat that needs changing.
Having said that there is no reason why we can’t come away with a point, which I’d be quite happy with in fairness. To do that we’ll need to match Stoke’s work rate and commitment and also counter their set pieces. It’s achievable but only if we can play right from the start and not just in the second half.
Howay the lads!
Date: Monday, 31st October, 2011
Kick-off: 8:00pm (UK time)
Venue: The Britannia Stadium