Newcastle play host to Burton Albion at St. James’ Park tonight, looking to do something they’ve not done in 13 attempts since 2013 – win back-to-back home matches in the league.
While tonight’s opponents, Burton Albion, will represent a straight forward win for the Magpies, Nigel Clough’s side won’t go down without a fight and I certainly won’t be taking three points for granted.
The Brewers pulled off an impressive 1-0 win over Huddersfield on Saturday, doing our promotion chances a real favour, but in the process, warning Rafa’s men that they are capable of an upset.
It is worth noting, however, that Saturday’s heroics will have undoubtedly left the Burton team tired – as we know all too well, with three lacklustre displays following our monumental effort to win at Huddersfield.
With this in mind, I expect Rafa to field a team capable of unsettling Burton from the off and I am predicting a few changes from Saturday’s line up.
Benitez confirmed yesterday that tonight’s game will come too soon for the recovering Ciaran Clark and DeAndre Yedlin.
Daryl Murphy has returned to full training and is in contention again tonight after missing out on the squad on Saturday.
For the visitors, late decisions may be made on John Brayford, Kyle McFadzean, Tom Flanagan and Lucas Akins, with all four picking up knocks following Saturday’s game.
Brian Clough must also decide whether to hand star man, Jackson Irvine, a start from the off, with the jet-lagged Australian grabbing the winner from the bench on Saturday.
Predicted Line up
I’m sticking my neck out a little here, but I fancy Rafa to possibly make the following FIVE changes tonight:
Murphy/Mitro in for Gayle? The side’s top scorer got back on the goal trail on Saturday but given tougher tests await in the weeks to come, with trips to Sheffield Wednesday and a visit of Leeds, Rafa could protect a striker who is in the early stages of returning from a niggling Hamstring problem. Murphy has done the job in the past and is full of experience, however, should he fail to make tonight’s game, don’t rule out a rare start for Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Perez IN, Diame OUT? I was unsure about this one as I imagine Benitez would want Diame’s physicality against a big Burton side. Perez deserves another chance in the side however, with the Spaniard being one of United’s best players in his last start away to Birmingham. This being said, it’s time for Ayoze to offer more at St. James’ Park, with the No. 10 due a good game at home. Diame showed signs of improvement against Wigan, but the way the pair tend to rotate, I expect to see Perez back in the side tonight.
Atsu IN, Gouffran OUT? I expect Burton to sit deep and try and defend it out tonight. With this in mind, Newcastle require players capable of unsettling the visitors and Atsu’s pace and directness wouldn’t go a miss. Gouffran has done a solid job this season but has faded in recent weeks, being a player more suited to Saturday’s away trip to Sheffield Wednesday.
Hayden IN, Colback OUT? Hayden’s presence has been sorely missed in the side and tonight I expect to see him come in from the start. He came on in the closing stages on Saturday and looked assured, giving the midfielder an ideal taster ahead of tonight’s match. Hayden also stands little over 6ft, offering a significant physical edge over the smaller Jack Colback, which could come in useful given Burton’s main threat tonight may come from set pieces.
Gamez IN, Anita OUT? Possibly the most outrageous call of the lot. Anita hasn’t long returned from a two-month injury lay off, however in Yedlin’s absence, the Dutchman has been required to play each of the last three games at right-back. Whilst he put in a good shift on Saturday, after uncomfortable displays against Fulham and Birmingham, two games in four days may be one too many for a player who, like Gayle, hasn’t long recovered from a substantial injury. Gamez has been a forgotten man for most of the season but was handed a surprise start away to Reading last month, showing that Benitez isn’t beyond throwing the Spaniard into proceedings if necessary. Gamez also looks a player comfortable on the ball and given tonight could see Newcastle have plenty of possession, with Burton sitting deep, his quality in that sense could prove fruitful.
I may be way off, but these are a few potential ideas that Rafa could go with tonight, in a game that Newcastle must approach positively with attacking intent.
It is also worth noting that top two chasers, Huddersfield, face a tough test against Norwich tonight, however, at this stage, Newcastle are in full control of their own destiny, regardless of results elsewhere.
Here’s hoping complacency is no more (amongst players and fans), with a win not only seeing us return to the summit, but a step closer to a return to the top flight.
Howay the lads!