Premier League football returns to St James’ Park tomorrow as Blackburn make the trip to the North East to take on Newcastle United.
It’s been nearly a month since NUFC last graced the pitch at St James’ Park when Fulham were despatched 2-1 thanks to a Leon Best brace. All the signs point towards another home win this time around but, as we know, that is a dangerous place to be in if you are a Newcastle fan.
It’s now ten games unbeaten for Newcastle in a run which stretches back to the start of May when we suffered defeat at the hands of Liverpool. Can they make it eleven unbeaten tomorrow? To do so they will have to beat a team who have won the last five matches on the bounce at St James’ Park.
Ironically the last time we managed to beat Blackburn on home turf we had John Carver in the dugout. It was his one and only game in full charge of Newcastle after the dismissal of Sir Bobbby Robson and the home side ran out 3-0 winners. Hopefully his presence will have the same effect tomorrow.
Hatem Ben Arfa is available again after making his return to first team action against Nottingham Forest in midweek although it would appear that a space on the bench is the most that the talented Frenchman can hope for.
Davide Santon is back in training and has suffered no reaction having had a small amount of fluid drained from his knee although he won’t be risked for this game. Mike Williamson, Haris Vuckic and Alan Smith are definitely out with respective ankle, hand and hamstring injuries while Steve Harper and Nile Ranger are not being considered for first team selection at the moment for some reason. Shola Ameobi is doubtful after injuring his shoulder against Nottingham Forest.
Newcastle made nine changes at the City Ground in midweek, with a lot of those players being rested completely. That will mean a return to the fold for players such as Tim Krul, Ryan Taylor, Steven Taylor, Cheik Tiote, Yohan Cabaye, Jonas Gutierrez, Leon Best and Demba Ba, and with the added bonus of some strong midweek performances from players like Sylvain Marveaux it will lead to a selection headache for Alan Pardew.
Not that I expect too much change from the game against Aston Villa however. To me that team played well enough to earn another chance, and with the players that were left out against Forest I think it’s fairly obvious that we’ll line up with the same team.
Tim Krul, Danny Simpson, Steven Taylor, Fabricio Coloccini, Ryan Taylor, Gabriel Obertan, Cheik Tiote, Yohan Cabaye, Jonas Gutierrez, Demba Ba, Leon Best.
What we have now is options from the bench. I assume that Hatem Ben Arfa will make an appearance at some point although he isn’t the only one that can change the game from the sidelines. Sylvain Marveaux impressed with two assists in midweek and Sammy Ameobi will just run and run and run… Both of these could also change a game. To me that is the noticeable difference between this season and last.
Morten Gamst Pedersen is fit again and will return to the Blackburn squad for the game tomorrow. The same can’t be said for Michel Salgado and Ryan Nelson however as both remain unavailable. David Goodwillie and David Dunn are both rated as doubtful.
Last time out Blackburn managed a win against Arsenal in a match the was dominated by the pre-match protests against Steve Kean. The Blackburn fans aren’t happy with him although a 4-3 win for his side will have earned him a reprieve.
Don’t let that result fool you however. Blackburn were outplayed for large parts of the game (not unusual against Arsenal in fairness, not matter how dysfunctional they appear to be at the moment) and managed to survive chance after chance being created against them. They won the game courtesy of two own goals and two goals from Yakubu and lined up with a team consisting of:
Paul Robinson, Michel Salgado, Chris Samba, Gael Givet, Scott Dann, Mauro Formica, Steven Nzonzi, Jason Lowe, Ruben Rochina, David Hoilett, Yakubu.
Jason Roberts is a player to watch. He generally does well against us so if he plays he will need to be monitored carefully. David Hoilett has pace to burn so will be a threat whilst the defensive pairing of Chris Samba and Scott Dann have the potential to keep out any Newcastle attack, especially with a keeper like Paul Robinson behind them.
Fun facts and stats
Meetings between the two sides seem to favour the away side. Blackburn have win the last five an St James’ Park while Newcastle have managed two wins and a draw from the last five trips to Ewood Park. Blackburn’s record at SJP is only bettered by Manchester United. Newcastle lead the overall head-to-head by a narrow margin of 55 wins to 52. There have been 30 draws.
A sixth victory may be a step too far for Steve Kean however. Blackburn have only won one of the last 11 away Premier league games whilst Newcastle have only lost once at home in the last 11 home Premier League games.
Blackburn have committed more fouls than any other Premier League team. In total they have fallen foul of the referee’s whistle on 70 occasions.
Leon Best needs two goals to equal Andy Carroll’s scoring record for Newcastle. He has four games to do it. If he can do it before then he will have surpassed Carroll’s exploits. How much for best in January? £40 million?
Staying with the Republic of Ireland international. Best has averaged a goal every 110 minutes for Newcastle in the Premier League and has hit the target with 86% of his shots on goal. He is more accurate in terms of getting shots on target than any other Premier League player at the moment.
Our defence has been the subject of a fair bit of praise so far this season, but they have only managed to complete 56% of headed clearances. This is the lowest in the Premier League and is a concern against a side like Blackburn.
It’s quite amusing to see that the referee for the game is one of my least favourite. Howard Webb is the man I love to hate, but Martin Atkinson is just behind him and will be the man in the middle for this game.
Traditionally Martin Atkinson gives us nothing. Last season he took charge of the 6-0 win over Villa, the 1-1 draw away at Blackpool and the now infamous 2-1 defeat at Manchester City. Marktoon still despises him for that last game alone.
Hatem Ben Arfa is back playing again after suffering a double leg break in that game at Manchester City. Referee Atkinson failed to produce a card or even give a free kick for the tackle on Ben Arfa. Shocking, but not as shocking as then going on to award City a penalty for a challenge that was outside the box, and for which Mike Williamson won the ball anyway. To rub further salt into the wounds Atkinson then failed to award us a penalty for a challenge on Shola Ameobi by Joleon Lescott. Shola did him for skill and Lescott took his legs away. A clear penalty.
We deserved something from that game and we were robbed of it, multiple times I’ll add, by the man who is tasked with ensuring the rules are abided by. He failed in his duty, and for that reason Atkinson can nibble on my turds.
The match is scheduled for overseas TV transmission so the chances are that there will be a stream available unlike Tuesday evening. I’m at work, again, so I’ll be missing the match, but rest assured that there will be someone keeping an eye on the site to make sure that everything goes smoothly.
Going smoothly would be a nice way to think about tomorrow, but this is Newcastle United and the course of true love often doesn’t run smooth. Time and again we’ve approached games like this one, games which on paper we should win, only to fall over. Hopefully it’s not the case tomorrow and we can continue our run and make it 11 games unbeaten with a win to boot. 12 points and unbeaten rolling into October? I’ll take that, but it won’t be easy.
Howay the lads!
Date: Saturday, 24th September, 2011
Kick-off: 3:00pm UK time
Venue: St James’ Park