Moving away from the fantastic annihilation of Sir Alex Ferguson’s men and we face the other side to beat them inside a week – Blackburn Rovers.
This FA Cup 3rd Round clash has the potential to be a fiery affair as both teams like to get physical, whilst the Toon will be looking to exact revenge for the 4-3 defeat Rovers inflicted upon them in October last year in that emotional rollercoaster of a League Cup 4th Round tie.
Goliaths Cheik Tiote and Demba Ba depart for the African Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast and Senegal respectively, whilst the Toon will do without long term absentee’s Steven Taylor (achilles) and Sylvain Marveaux (groin). Danny Guthrie is only a week or so away from a comeback from his own groin injury whilst Hatem Ben Arfa and Dan Gosling are both pushing for starts.
Goalkeeper Paul Robinson (calf) is close to a comeback, but the Magpies test is likely to come too soon. Martin Olsson and David Hoilett (both hamstring) are nearing full fitness but again manager Steve Kean will be reluctant to risk aggravating their injuries ahead of the Premier League tie against Fulham next week. Ryan Nelsen (knee), Vincenzo Grella (hip) and Scott Dann (groin) are all ruled out. Now that is an injury crisis!
Shamrock’s Top 10 Really Interesting Stats and Facts:
1 – This is the 11th FA Cup clash between the two sides, with Newcastle having won five and drawn three. Rovers have never won a Cup tie at St James’ Park whilst they will have to go back to 1993 to find the last time they knocked us out of the Competition. We have beaten them three times since, however it took replays on two of those occasions.
2 – The last FA Cup tie between these sides came in January 2000 at Ewood Park. Alan Shearer was given a hostile reception by the home fans and was boo’d throughout. That put the fire in his belly and he put Rovers to the sword with two successful strikes, including his 250th Career goal.
3 – Newcastle are strong favourites for this one, with bookies’ odds of 8/13 meaning a flutter on the home side is almost pointless. Blackburn are 4-1, whilst a draw will fetch 3-1. Bearing in mind two of the last three FA Cup matches between these sides initially ended in draws, this could could be a good punt.
4 – Newcastle and Blackburn have each won the FA Cup six times. Rovers last lifting the famous trophy in 1928 with a 3-1 win over Huddersfield Town, whilst our last success came in 1955 with a 3-1 victory over Manchester City.
5 – Rovers’ Jason Roberts has scored four goals in his last four starts against the Magpies.
6 – Yakubu is one to watch, with 13 goals in 18 games so far this season.
7 – Newcastle’s squad is currently valued at £93m compared to Blackburn’s £69.5m.
8 – The Toon will be looking for their 170th FA Cup victory against Rovers.
9 – In ten appearances against us, Morten Gamst Pedersen has scored four goals and set up two.
10 – If each FA Cup game were scored on a points system, then the all time league table would have Blackburn in 8th place with 645 points. Newcastle would be 10th with 592 points.
Tactical thoughts and ponderings:
Right then, this week will be a short one. Why? I don’t have the foggiest about what sort of team Blackburn are likely to field, or what formation they will set out with. They have gone from 4-4-2’s incorporating Goodwillie and Yakubu up front to 4-5-1’s with the Yak on his own up front, two advanced wingers and three central midfielders sitting rather deep this season. Being away from home I would guess Steve Kean will pursue the latter option in an effort to limit our chances and keep the Toon fans quiet.
The problem is Blackburn have injuries to several key players and some of those that may make a comeback against Newcastle will certainly not be fully match fit. This leaves under pressure Rovers boss Steve Kean with a big problem. I don’t think he will welcome this fixture, particularly on the back of our confident performance and 3-0 win against Man Utd, which will no doubt have left him gutted that we are picking up form again.
Blackburn obviously managed to beat Man Utd on New Years Eve with a well earned 3-2 victory at Old Trafford, however looking at the stats it was certainly not a confident performance from Rovers. They had 5 shots on target to Man Utd’s 13, 3 corners to Man Utd’s 17 and only 42% of the possession. Frankly Man Utd ‘hammered’ them, but failed to take their chances and were off colour in defence. It was just a bad day in the office as opposed to Blackburn being excellent.
Rovers went on to lose at home to Stoke City when Kean will have been telling them they can beat anybody if they can beat the Red Devils. That was their chance to build up a head of steam and give themselves some confidence. It will have hurt them and heads will have dropped for sure. Kean now has to decide whether to go for it and try and build up some confidence amongst his playing staff in a competition that will no doubt hurt his squad the longer they stay in it, or play the younger lads and those sat on the fringes in an effort to give them some experience and maybe dig up a new gem.
If I were Kean, there would be little doubt that this game would see some of the big names getting a rest in preparation for the next league match. The last thing he needs is more injuries or fatigued players if he is to have any chance of avoiding relegation this term. That gives Alan Pardew the ideal opportunity to tinker about with his team a little and find his best line up in the absensc of prolific leading scorer Demba Ba and midfield machine Cheick Tiote.
With Hatem Ben Arfa beginning to grumble in the press about being overlooked since his return to fitness, Pards needs to decide if changing from a strong 4-4-2 formation to something more suited to our little Frenchman is in the best interests of the club. Benny slated Pardew’s tactics recently (Only mildly I might add, out of frustration). I’m sure he feels suitable sheepish following the Man U game! I think he will change things around and we will see Benny start, with accompanying tactics to suit.
However, if Benny boy fails to deliver a good enough all round performance I can see him being hooked off and dropped back to the bench for the QPR game. There is no doubt he has the talent to be a menace against any opposition, but he does not seem to have the stamina to keep those standards up throughout the course of a game and that talent can quickly make way to be a bit of a liability (i.e no link between midfield and up front, trying too hard with dribbles etc instead of making the pass).
If Pards can find the right balance in the team to accommodate Ben Arfa and maintain our all round effectiveness then hallelujah! However, as things stand I’m not convinced Ben Arfa and our tactics/style of play are a good match.
Not much tactics here I know, but Newcastle don’t need to do anything drastic against Blackburn. Keep the back five the same for stability, tinker around a bit in midfield but revert to type (4-4-2) should we struggle to break through. This game should really be a bit of a formality and I for one expect a strong line up and win to go with it.
After all, Pardew did say he wants us to put a good Cup run together this season and Blackburn ended our previous chance of that, so he will have extra incentive for this one! Blackburn’s dangers to be aware of are Yakubu, Pedersen, Jason Roberts and set pieces. Give Shola another start for his height and influence (when he’s in the mood), be organised for free kicks and corners, don’t let them bully us and we will be fine.
40-year-old Leicestershire born Kevin Friend will take the helm for this one. He joined the Select Group of Referees in our Championship season. Blackburn have won three of their five games officiated by Friend, whilst Newcastle have won each of their fou matches under him with a goal difference of 10-2! More of the same please Ref….
Newcastle United V Blackburn Rovers
Saturday 7th January 2012 @ 15:00
St James’ Park
Howay the lads!