Welcome one and all to Championship match day, a day in which Rafa Benitez’ Newcastle United visits the i-pro Stadium (otherwise known as Pride Park) to take on Nigel Pearson’s Derby County. Pearson is a familiar face to the Toon Army, having been assistant and caretaker manager from 2006 to 2007. All sentiment goes out the window today however – and knowing Nigel, he won’t spare a second thought for Newcastle whilst he tries to unhinge their season and spark Derby’s into life.
Amongst the favorites for a play-off place this season, The Rams sit in 18th place having began the campaign poorly with only one win under their belt. Their most recent league outing resulted in a disappointing 1-0 loss at relegation favorites Burton Albion. The Magpies meanwhile, are title favorites and currently find themselves in 5th place having recovered from an opening two defeats to now be seeking a 4th straight league victory. Their last league outing was a very reassuring 2-0 win against fellow promotion rivals Brighton & Hove despite not having first choice forwards Dwight Gayle or Aleksander Mitrovic available.
Newcastle have not won at Derby since 2002, when Laurent Robert, Kieron Dyer and Lomana Lua-Lua launched a stinging comeback from 2 goals down to win 3-2. Their last win at Pride Park prior to that was in 1998, when they prevailed in a classic Premier League 4-3 game during which the late great and cult hero of mine Gary Speed netted a well earnt double. The last game between the two sides in Derby was a 3-0 win for the Rams when goals from Rob Hulse, Kris Commons and Shaun Barker comprehensively saw the Magpies off.
Today’s game kicks off at 17:30 and will feature live on Sky Sports, so hopefully for those with no access to Sky TV, links will be found on the internet. Steve McClaren will NOT feature from the Sky Sports studio today (cue collective sigh of relief from Toon Army and Derby fans alike), so everybody can enjoy watching the game without being reminded of the horrors of the Grin Reaper’s past whilst at the helm of both sides. The game will be referee’d by Newport-born journeyman James Linnington, who has spent the years mostly rawling through the Championship to League 2 on a week-by-week basis. He is not a lucky omen for either of today’s sides. Newcastle’s last game with Linnington in charge was a 4-3 FA Cup loss to West Brom in 2010, when he dished out 4 yellows for the Toon and a controversial red for Ryan Taylor. Derby have only won 1 of their last 5 with the Isle of Wight refee in charge. Their last home game being a heavy 3-0 loss to Reading in 2015.
Lets get to it then and have a look at the line-ups. It sounds as if Derby are setting out with a 4-4-2 in order to try and address an alarming lack of goals in which they have only made 1 so far this season. Newcastle meanwhile appear to be playing it safe, with Gouffran getting another chance following his sharp appearing performance against Brighton. New signing Christian Atsu has failed to force his way into the squad today, whilst Deandre Yedlin and Achraf Lazaar both make the bench. Isaac Hayden has been rotated out in place of Jack Colback. One might consider that a risk given Hayden is well rested following the International break and has been such an influential figure so far this season.
So there it is. Game On!