Newcastle’s first home game of the season takes place this weekend with a good old-fashioned 3pm Saturday afternoon kick-off against Huddersfield. It promises to be one heck of an afternoon too with a sell-out at St. James’ Park predicted and a ‘black & white day’ organised to generate atmosphere and encourage the team with an incredible show of collective strength. The Gallowgate Flags group has invited fans to arrive at the ground half an hour before kick-off clad in black and white to help ‘raise the roof’ at the start of the home campaign.
The opening day defeat to Fulham has done little to dampen the mood on Tyneside following the most positive summer for several seasons after Rafa Benitez signed a new contract to begin an exciting project at Newcastle. The humbling loss at Craven Cottage proved to everyone that The Championship is to be a challenging campaign but hopes are high that Newcastle will get off the mark on Saturday and make St. James’ Park a fortress this season.
The side will have to play a lot better than they did at Fulham but a more attacking set up is expected as Rafa looks to take full advantage of the considerable and passionate backing from the Toon Army.
Benitez keeps his tactical and selection ‘cards’ pretty close to his chest in the lead up to games but considering United’s ineffectual and limp attack last week, one or two attacking changes should take place. The back four may stay the same as it was at Fulham although Chancel Mbemba could replace Hanley at centre half having recovered from a knock in pre-season. The midfield selection and set-up will be the most interesting as Newcastle looked far too conservative with Colback, Hayden and Anita starting at Fulham. Jonjo Shelvey is pushing for a start as he possesses the creativity which Newcastle lacked last week. Matt Ritchie is expected to start on the right hand side as he looked far more comfortable when switching to that side after beginning the game at Fulham on the left. If Ritchie does start on the right then that leaves room for Rolando Aarons, fresh from signing a new deal, to start on the left. That immediately gives United a more balanced feel and the only remaining dilemma for Rafa is whether to stick with Perez playing off Gayle in attack. The young Spaniard looked totally lost last Friday as he struggled to form any sort of connection with Gayle and he could find himself replaced by Adam Armstrong, who looked lively when coming off the bench against Fulham.
Moussa Sissoko is not expected to play a part in the fixture following another media misdemeanour this week, pleading for a transfer to Real Madrid. Sissoko is fast becoming in danger of turning into a desperate housewife, begging more attractive suitors to rescue him from the trapped relationship he finds himself in. His amorous glances at wealthier outfits and lusty ambitions are the only hints of distraction from an otherwise focused squad. The thing Sissoko doesn’t quite seem to fathom is the fact that the more desperate you appear, the less attractive you become.
The only other question mark in regard to selection is the involvement of new signing Mo Diame. At time of writing, I’m still can’t find confirmation that Diame has been given a squad number so it’s difficult to know where we are at in terms of a possible debut.
Whatever the line-up and formation, a much improved performance is required and hopefully with the incredible support provided by the fans, it will be a day to remember.