Last weekend’s comfortable defeat at the hands of West Ham was a reality check – and this one could be too if we aren’t careful.
We’re chasing our FIFTH straight home win at St James’ Park, with a victory putting us in touching distance of Premier League survival, however we’re facing an Everton side who’ll be buoyed by their well deserved draw against Liverpool last weekend.
Ironically, we played Everton in December on the back of their devastating last minute defeat at Anfield, however they come into this one with a spring in their step after a hard fought point against Liverpool – one that would’ve felt like a win to the fans given their desire to stop their local rivals winning the title.
That said, this isn’t an Everton side I fear. They were flying in 6th when we played them earlier in the season, yet now they’re as close to us in 14th (6 points away) as they are to 7th – a position they called their own not so long ago.
Longstaff’s injury is a blow (although I’m relieved to hear it’s ‘6-8′ weeks and not months!), but I don’t see any reason why we get the better of this Everton side based on what I’ve seen of them and what I’ve watched from us at St James’ Park recently.
We looked a little sluggish and sloppy at West Ham, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Rafa makes a few changes.
That said, we have a group of players that pick themselves right now, so I see the only changes being Yedlin in for Manquillo and one or two or Shelvey, Diame and Ki coming in after Longstaff’s season-ending injury.
Considering how Shelvey and Diame played together this time last season, it wouldn’t surprise me if both started – especially when we need to start preparing for life without want-away midfielder Isaac Hayden.
Diame needs starts to trigger a one-year extension – not forgetting he was our best player in his second half cameo at West Ham – while Shelvey could be the ball player we need to unlock to door and make the most of Almiron’s frightening pace and intelligent runs out wide and in behind.
For the record, Hayden doesn’t deserve to be dropped and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start again.
Preferred NUFC XI – (3-4–2-1) – Dubravka– Schar, Lascelles, Lejeune – Yedlin, Diame, Shelvey, Ritchie – Perez, Almiron – Rondon.
Here’s a few ‘ones to watch’ in this Everton side:
Richarlison: The Brazilian winger scored in our 1-1 draw at Goodison and although he’s been far from his best of late, I remember him tormenting Yedlin all afternoon when his old Watford side hammered us at St James’ Park last season.
Gylfi Sigurdsson – A quality number 10 who will give Everton more cutting edge alone than Huddersfield and Burnley mustered in our last 2 hone games. We can’t afford to give him any space in and around the edge of the box.
Jordan Pickford – The former Mackem is a great goalkeeper on his day but he’s dropped plenty clangers this season. He can be a little too impulsive when it comes to claiming crosses and playing out from the back, so putting him under pressure is a must.
Andre Gomes – He didn’t play in their 0-0 draw with Liverpool last weekend, but the Portuguese midfielder is a majestic player who can pull the strings and skip past a man at ease on his day. If he starts, it’ll be Hayden or Diame’s job to get into him from the off.
Predicted Everton XI – (4-2-3-1) – Pickford – Coleman, Keane, Zouma, Digne – Gomes, Gueye – Walcott, Sigurdsson, Richarlison – Calvert Lewin.
Sean Longstaff is ruled out – with Rafa confirming that he’ll miss ‘2-3 months’ – while Ciaran Clark and Rob Elliot are also out once again.
For Everton, it seems the only senior absentees will be Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka – not that either get into their side these days.
Richarlison and Andre Gomes could be recalled after being benched for last week’s Merseyside derby.
I can’t see past a draw for this one.
We’ve become hard to beat at home (cue a comfortable away win for the Blues!), but Everton will be buoyed from the draw with Liverpool – something thats’ relieved both the pressure on them and Marco Silva.
As much as Rafa will demand we give 100% and remain focused on staying up, I think a few players will have taken their foot off the gas every so slightly after back to back home wins over Huddersfield and Burnley.
Hopefully we cut out the errors on show at West Ham and are fully focused on putting in another big performance at St James’ Park in this one.
There’s no reason why we can’t make it five home wins on the spin, but I can see a score draw.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-1 Everton
Howay the lads!