Newcastle play their penultimate home game of the season tomorrow when Stoke City visit St James’ Park for a regulation Saturday, 3pm kick-off.
The home side have won five games on the spin and go looking for a sixth successive win for the first time since 1996 as the race for Europe hots up. Indeed a win against Stoke would likely mean that European football is guaranteed as the odds are stacked against Everton getting a result at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Anyhow, first things first and that is Stoke City. You know what you’re going to get when you come up against Stoke. You will get tested in the air and tackled on the ground. In the corresponding fixture last season we lost 2-1, but earlier on in the season we turfed them over on their own patch with Demba Ba bagging a hat-trick to silence the Britannia boo boys, who were displeased with Ba because their own manager didn’t sign him? Yeah, I can’t work it out either but that is Potteries logic for you!
Alan Pardew has been boosted by the return to fitness of a whole host of players ahead of the run in. James Perch (thigh), midfielders Cheick Tiote (hamstring), Danny Guthrie (calf) and Gabriel Obertan (ankle) are all back in training, as are striker Leon Best (knee) and midfielder Sylvain Marveaux. Cheik Tiote is likely to go straight back into the starting line up.
Peter Lovenkrands, Steven Taylor and Sammy Ameobi are all still sidelined while there is worrying news over Tim Krul, who sat out training on Thursday after feeling a back spasm. He’s expected to be fit but backup keeper Rob Elliot is being prepared for action should Krul not make it.
Jermaine Pennant could miss the match through illness although he will undergo a late fitness test to determine whether he is officially ruled out or not. Mamady Sidebe and Salif Diao are both injured long term although Andy Wilkinson is available again after recovering from a groin injury.
Newcastle go searching for their first ever Premier League double over The Potters. On Tyneside it’s been a bit of a horror story though as Stoke have won one and drawn the other of their two Premier League trips to St James’ Park.
In general though we don’t have a bad record against Stoke. Of 82 meetings in all competitions we’ve won on 40 occasions with Stoke being victorious just 23 times in comparison. The other 19 matches, not surprisingly, have been draws!
Tactics and team selection
It’s going to be 4-3-3 again I would imagine. We have a virtually full strength squad to choose from so I see no reason to change what has been a winning formula. The attacking trio of Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa will cause Stoke problems as, quite simply, they can’t mark all of them at once, not with the movement and fluidity they possess.
The other issue we have to address is how we play at the back. It is likely to be Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini paired in central defence, but regardless of who it is they will need to be on guard against Stoke and their aerial threat. For once they can afford to keep a relatively high line, providing that the wingers of Stoke are sufficiently shackled. I honestly can’t see Peter Crouch or Julie (Jonathan) Walters breaking through the defence with searing pace…
If all else fails just give Danny Simpson a towel and they’ll soon get radged up!
Match stats and facts
Papiss Cisse is bidding to become the first player to score in six consecutive Premier League games this season. Wayne Rooney, Rafael Van der Vaart and Robin Van Persie have all got to scoring in five consecutive games before drawing a blank.
A clean sheet will set a new Premier League club record for consecutive clean sheets at home. The previous best was three in a row back in 2008.
Stoke are the lowest scorers in the Premier League, and the joint lowest scorers in the Premier League along with Fulham. Both sides have only found the back of the net 11 times away from home.
Stoke haven’t won in seven Premier League away games.
Three points is a must, but Stoke are well capable of playing the role of party pooper. We can get at them but will need to be wary of the threat they carry. Ultimately their game isn’t the greatest to watch, but it is effective and can be dangerous.
I feel that this is another game, like Bolton, where patience and a bit of brilliance may make the difference. Fortunately we possess both of those traits in our team.
Howay the lads!
Date: Saturday, 21st April, 2012
Venue: St James’ Park