Just two days after returning from Ukraine having secured passage through to the last 16 of the Europa League, Alan Pardew must prepare his side for a do or die basement battle against Southampton.
The two teams sit 16th and 15th respectively with only goal difference separating the two clubs. Both managers will be acutely aware of the importance of the victory as the term “breathing space” comes into the equation with league games starting to run out and safety still to fight for.
Both teams have undergone an upturn in form in recent weeks. We’ve lost just one match out of the last of five since our French invasion gathered pace at the end of January whilst Southampton seem to have got over their poor start to the season by losing just one of their last nine league outings (although six have been draws), with their 3-1 victory over Manchester City last time out showing how far they’ve come recently.
Tim Krul is out and could be sidelined for as many as five weeks after picking up an ankle injury on Thursday. He will see a specialist on Monday to determine the severity of his injury. Hatem Ben Arfa is back in full training although judging by the words of Alan Pardew it looks as though this match will be too soon for him and he’ll have to wait until next Saturday at Swansea before making his return. Ryan Taylor and Haris Vuckic are both unavailable.
In better news, Mathieu Debuchy should return to the starting line up after being ineligible for the Europa League fixtures. Yoan Gouffran has trained for a week now following on from his injury at Tottenham and should be fine to start, as should Cheik Tiote who withdrew from the match in Ukraine with illness. Davide Santon should also be fine to play after recovering from an ankle knock.
Gaston Ramirez and Luke Shaw are available after missing the win against Manchester City through injury. Guly do Prado is doubtful for the trip to St James’ Park while Jose Fonte remains out with a knee problem.
Newcastle lost the reverse fixture 2-0 earlier on in the season in what was the first clash between the two sides since 2005.
On home soil there have been 37 matches contested between the two sides with Southampton running out victorious at St James’ Park on just four of those occasions compared to United’s 28 victories. The last St James’ Park victory for the Saints came in March 1997.
Overall the record is a bit closer but it’s still United who shade it. There have been 75 matches between the two sides, home and away and in all competitions, with United winning 33 times compared to Southampton’s 26 victories. A total of 16 draws between the two sides make up the numbers.
Stats and facts:
Mike Williamson could make his 100th appearance for United while James Perch could make his 250th career league appearance.
Newcastle are yet to win a game after conceding the first goal this season. Of the 11 occasions United have conceded first we’ve managed to rescue two draws with the other nine games ending in defeat.
Southampton have lost just once on the road in their last five games and have taken 19 of their 27 points this season against bottom-half opposition.
Only Wigan and QPR have a worse first-half record in the Premier League than Southampton.
Rickie Lambert is looking for his 100th goal for Southampton.
Winning in midweek was great and prolongs our participation in Europe for another four weeks at least, but for me it won’t matter if we fail to register a win in this game. Southampton have had 15 days without a game while United have made a 3,000 mile trip to Ukraine and back and will have just two days to recover before going again. Professional athletes they may be, but even still we face a fully rested team when ours isn’t.
We’ve looked much better since being bolstered by our January signings and with it being “French Day” (honestly, I’m cringing right now!) at St James’ Park tomorrow hopefully our Gallic contingent can continue to impress and show that je ne sais quoi that has had people raving about them so far.
I really can’t stress the importance of this game. Win and we can look up. We’d be on 30 points with a bit of breathing space between us and the relegation spots. Lose or draw and we’re in danger of being sucked right in to the relegation mix, and no matter how much quality we have or how many people say that we have a squad to compete on two fronts, that will hurt.
Howay the lads!
Date: Sunday, 24th February, 2013
Venue: St James’ Park