Wolves are the visitors to St James’ Park this week as they take on Newcastle, with both sides reeling from shipping five goals in their last league outing.
While Newcastle were getting thumped 5-0 by title-chasing Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane, Wolves were getting a 5-1 hammering from their local rivals on their own patch – a match that saw the end of Mick McCarthy’s tenure as Wolves boss.
Needless to say there is an awful lot of making up to do from both sets of players although the ultimate goal for each side couldn’t be more different. Wolves are treading water in the bottom three whilst Newcastle are flirting with European qualification. It won’t be as easy as some fans believe either…
Leon Best, Steven Taylor, Sylvain Marveaux, Sammy Ameobi and Nile Ranger are all out through injury. Steve Harper is unfit apparently although I can’t quite work out how? Surely he is used to watching from the sidelines?
The big news though is regarding Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye who will both return to the starting line up after participation in the African Cup of Nations and suspension for violent conduct respectively meaning that Alan Pardew can pick the strongest team possible for the first time since we beat Manchester United at the start of January. Ryan Taylor is also back in contention after recovering from bruising inflicted in the victory against Aston Villa a few weeks ago.
Sebastien Bassong, Michael Kightly and Karl Henry are all available after injury, or suspension in Henry’s case, although Emmanuel Frimpong will not take part after rupturing knee ligaments. He has been sent back to his parent club Arsenal to recover. Ronald Zubar played over an hour of a reserve team fixture in midweek although it’s expected that this game will come to soon for him as he works on his fitness.
Newcastle go looking for their second league double of the season after their 2-1 victory at Molineux earlier on in the season, with goals from Demba Ba and Jonas Gutierrez inflicting the damage on the day. Indeed Jonas has quite the habit of scoring against Wolves as he also found the net the last time they came to St James’ Park in a 4-1 victory towards the back end of last season.
Wolves have never beaten us in a Premier League fixture, although to be fair there isn’t an awful lot of recent history between the two sides. From the five Premier League encounters between the two sides the points have been shared three times (all 1-1 scorelines) with us taking the three points on the other two occasions.
I know it can feel a little bit like the wheels have fallen off,but if you look at our last six games you will see that we’ve actually won four of them with two heavy defeats against Tottenham and Fulham wedged in there for good measure and to keep us on our toes!
Wolves will be happy to be away from Molineux by the looks of it as the contrast between their home form and away from is quite startling, especially in recent weeks. They are unbeaten in their last four away games managing draw at Arsenal, Tottenham and Bolton to go with the win they picked up at QPR.
Getting the game head on…
So how do we attack Wolves? The simple answer is relentlessly! They have not kept a clean sheet in 22 league games and you have to fancy our attack against what is a pretty slow and cumbersome defence.
For that reason I would find some way of playing Hatem Ben Arfa, who will just run and run at the Wolves defence and pull them out of shape leaving gaps for Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse to exploit.
We will have to watch the Wolves attack though as they can cause problems. They have hard working forwards such as Steven Fletcher, Kevin Doyle and Stephen Hunt who will not let our defence rest while Matt Jarvis is likely to give Danny Simpson a bit of a headache. If we leave Simpson to deal with Jarvis on his own we could be asking for trouble, so for that reason I would play someone with pace who will help him out, which basically means Gabriel Obertan on the right.
Or does it? Is there a way we can fit both Obertan and Ben Arfa in the same team? With Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye back we have our first choice central midfield ready for selection which will shore things up at the back allowing players like Ben Arfa an opportunity to concentrate solely on attack.
I hate being over confident about things as it can come back and bite you on the behind, but this is one game we really should be looking to win. We are the home team and we have virtually a full strength starting XI to choose from so the tools to do the job are there, it’s just whether we use them or not. It’s games like these where a flirt with Europe is earned or lost!
However Wolves will have a say on how things go. They will want to bounce back after losing 5-1 to West Brom and will be a tough nut to crack. I reckon the first goal will be the important one in this game…
Howay the lads!
Date: Saturday 25th February
Venue: St James’ Park