After three weeks of writing about what we could hope for against the three best teams in England, I thought I would have to find a different avenue this week.
Hoping is OK against the big boys, but obviously after our difficult run of ‘hoping’, I was fully expecting a strong Newcastle team to bounce back in style. It’s not as clear cut as that anymore though, with our squad seemingly crumbling as we enter one of the busiest periods on the footballing calendar.
This week we face Norwich, a team that like ourselves, are somewhat over performing and proving the critics wrong, currently sitting in a comfortable 11th position. With three wins, two draws and two defeats at home, they haven’t exactly made Carrow Road a fortress, but they have managed to surprise a few, only being narrowly defeated by an in-form Arsenal, and ensuring the great unwashed left with nothing except red faces.
At home they have taken points off Sunderland, Swansea and QPR, whilst drawing against Stoke and Blackburn. Bar Stoke, all have been bottom-half teams. Their two defeats have come at the hands of Arsenal and West Brom.
Newcastle make the long trip to Norfolk this weekend with players seemingly dropping like flies. Steven Taylor is out for the rest of the season, while Fabricio Coloccini’s thigh problem makes him doubtful, although speaking on Wednesday night, he would not rule himself out. Mike Williamson appears to be still some weeks off full fitness, which leaves us worryingly short at the back.
Numerous ideas have been thrown about, some suggesting Davide Santon should play at centre-back, a position he has played at for Italy U21’s. Alan Pardew seems to prefer to use James Perch rather than youngster Tamas Kadar, and despite much criticism in the past, the ex-forest man performed quite well under testing circumstances when he was called upon last week. Beyond that there isn’t a lot to choose from, with the likes of Remie Streete, Jeff Henderson and Stephen Folan all untested at the top level.
In midfield Danny Guthrie is out for around a month, whilst Cheik Tiote has still not returned. Like Toonsy said in an article a while back, it all seems a bit dodgy. At first he was meant to be back for the City game, then the United game, and now it looks like it will be mid-December at the earliest. Murmurings in the week suggested he could be off in January, with some saying Chelsea have already agreed a £20 million fee. If true it’s disappointing, but not entirely surprising.
In his absence it seems Dan Gosling is poised to start alongside Yohan Cabaye. Jonas Gutierrez will be back from suspension, which will hopefully give Ryan Taylor the much needed defensive cover that was lacking against Chelsea. Sylvain Marveaux remains out, so Gabriel Obertan looks set to continue on the right.
Ironically, it is upfront, the position in which we tried and failed to bring in cover over the summer, that we are strongest, with all three first choice players; Demba Ba, Leon Best and Hatem Ben Arfa all fit. Shola Ameobi came on last week and looked strong, but it seems as though Alan Pardew sees him as an impact sub, rather than first-team material.
It’s important that we get back to winning ways. Looking back on both the City and Chelsea game, we could have easily scored two or three in each game. It’s important that we don’t look back on every game with this sort of attitude, and instead become more clinical in front of goal. Our latest poor run of form has seen us slip down into a perhaps more realistic 6th place, with Fulham defeating Liverpool on Monday the only thing that stopped us dropping to 7th. The gap between us and our realistic contenders for 7th place- ie; Stoke, Villa, Everton – is currently eight points. If we can keep that gap intact or even stretch it going into Christmas it will signal a very positive first half of the season.
Even with injury, our squad is good enough to get something against Norwich. They have looked good this season, but it is our games against the mid-table teams that really count, and if we want to be sat in the top-seven come the end of the season, it’s games like these that need to be won.
How do you think we’ll do at Carrow Road?