I don’t like to build up games too much given we’re only half way into the season, but this for me is our biggest one yet.
We slipped into the relegation zone last weekend, with big away wins for Palace (0-3), Huddersfield (1-4) and West Ham (0-3) giving us a slightly frightening example of just what we’re up against in this fight for survival.
Getting a result in this one is essential. Win and we’d leapfrog the Hammers and almost certainly get our confidence back, but lose and it’d start to look unbearably grim for us down at the bottom.
With Swansea (20th) playing Palace (14th), Stoke (17th) playing West Brom (19th), Brighton at home to an out of form Watford and Southampton facing Huddersfield, it’s a weekend where those around us are sure to pick up points. We cannot afford to be the team who comes home empty handed once again.
We showed some positive signs in the 1-0 defeat at Arsenal, fighting to the end and competing better than we have done, however points keep you up, not performances, and we’re in desperate need of a few to get to that 20 point target before the year is out.
Rotation will commence soon enough, but I don’t anticipate too many changes from the side that lost to Arsenal for this one.
Elliot to continue in goal. He did well at Arsenal on his return and is our most reliable option.
With Shelvey serving the last game of his two-match ban, you’d think Merino and Hayden will operate in front of the back four once again. The Spaniard was sensational at the Emirates last week. Having him back to his best could be huge with the Hammers set to be without influential midfielders Noble and Lanzini.
I saw Paul Merson say we might not be able to handle Marko Arnautovic in this one. The £25m man has scored 2 in his last three, but they are his only two goals for the club since his record breaking move. He’s got that arrogance and maverick mentality about him, so he’ll either score two and be the match winner or barely get a kick all game. He’s that sort of player.
A random one, but wing-back Arthur Masauku has impressed me massively whenever I’ve watched them recently. He plays on the left of their 4-man midfield in their 3-4-2-1 system. He’ll run at us and look to whip crosses in down Ritchie/Yedlin’s side.
Adrian has been in inspired form since his return to the side in goal. He’s a keeper Rafa was linked with over the summer, so hopefully he doesn’t put in a performance that leaves us wondering what might have been. I’d far prefer to see Joe Hart between their sticks!
Lanzini and Noble are key players – with the former assisting all three of their goals in their latest 3-0 win at Stoke – however both are ruled out, as is Antonio by all acc ounts. A welcome boost given he’s a player with the pace and power to hurt any team.
Newcastle – 18th (15 pts) – Last 5 in the league – Won: 0 / Drawn: 1 / Lost: 4
West Ham – 15th – (17 pts) – Last 5 in the league / Won: 2 / Drawn: 1 / Lost: 2
Shelvey banned, Mitrovic and Gamez missing through injury and Paul Dummett in contention to return to the squad.
For the Hammers, key trio Mark Noble (hamstring), Manuel Lanzini (diving ban) and Michail Antonio (calf) look set to miss out.
Newcastle XI – (4-2-3-1) – Elliot – Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Manquillo – Merino, Hayden – Ritchie, Perez, Atsu– Joselu
West Ham XI – (3-4-2-1) – Adrian – Reid, Collins, Ogbonna– Zabaleta, Kouyate, Obiang, Masauku – Ayew, Arnautovic– Sakho.
We tend to beat them at home, but we’ve failed to score in our last few away trips to West Ham. This will be our first visit to the ‘London Stadium’ however so hopefully that changes.
This is a huge game for both sides. With that in mind, I expect a cagey game and one that’ll be settled by the odd goal if there’s to be a winner.
A win would be the perfect Christmas present to give us a much needed confidence boost and get us back on track, but I’m not too sure where the goals are coming from at the moment.
I think they’ll struggle without Lanzini, Noble and Antonio and I think we’ll come away from this one with a point – which wouldn’t be the win we crave, but would keep us ticking over in a game we can’t afford to lose.
Prediction: West Ham 0-0 Newcastle
Howay the lads!