After back-to-back wins over the past week, today’s late kick off sees Benitez’s men take on Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough (Sky Sports 1 – 5.30pm)
The game, for me, represents our toughest test in our six remaining fixtures. A win tonight would symbolise a monumental moment in our bid for automatic promotion, whilst simultaneously maintaining our title hopes, given Brighton start the day at the summit after last night’s win at QPR.
It’s another huge day for the Magpies but Sheffield Wednesday will be looking to spoil the party. Hillsborough will be bouncing as the Owls, who beat United 1-0 at St. James’ last year, look to make a late push to consolidate their place in this year’s play-off positions.
After a stuttering spell, back to back home wins over the past week will have done the confidence within the camp no harm. Benitez and the boys appear fully focused on the task-in-hand and have got the job done of late, however, performance levels may need to be upped, with the standard of opposition stepping up a notch from the Wigans and Burtons of the world this evening.
6th placed Sheffield Wednesday have suffered a dip in form over recent weeks, but a return to winning ways at Rotherham this week handed Carlos Carvalhal’s men a timely boost ahead of tonight’s clash.
Benitez confirmed yesterday that Yedlin (thigh) and Clark (knee) will be missing once again. The pair appear to be progressing well but Rafa rightfully prefers not to risk them.
Colback looks set to miss out again through illness, with Rafa unlikely to risk Hayden, meaning Mo Diame could continue in central midfield alongside Jonjo Shelvey.
Mbemba may also retain his place in the side, after Benitez stated he ‘could play again’ in yesterday’s pre-match presser.
Unfortunately for ourselves, the hosts look set to be boosted by the timely return of star man, Fernando Forestieri. The diminutive attacker is a player I would happily see in black and white, with his spark and energy something we must be protective of.
Vincent Sasso could return after completing a ban, whilst midfielders Almen Abdi and Kieran Lee remain long-term absentees.
Newcastle United – (4-2-3-1) – Darlow – Anita, Lascelles, Mbemba, Dummett – Shelvey, Diame – Ritchie, Perez, Gouffran – Gayle.
ONE change from Burton:
Gouffran IN, Atsu OUT? Atsu struggled on Wednesday night, failing to stamp his authority on a game we dominated, showing a lack of final product. His pace could be a weapon from the bench, however I fully expect Rafa to recall Gouffran, whose work rate and experience could be needed in this one.
Sheffield Wednesday – (4-4-2) – Westwood – Hunt, Lees, Loovens, Fox – Wallace, Bannan, Hutchinson, Reach – Forestieri, Fletcher.
Hillsborough will be rocking, and with the Owls boosted by the return of Forestieri combined with the Magpies missing several key men, I expect a real tough game.
Our grit and game-plan will make us hard to beat, however, I don’t see us quite having enough to get all three points on occasion. I’ll go for 1-1.
Howay the lads!