The moment has finally arrived. After results went our way over the weekend, seeing Huddersfield and Reading BOTH lose, Newcastle can officially earn promotion tonight with a win over Preston.
A return to the Premier League awaits, however, we must remain focused on the job in hand, with Preston planning to spoil the party at St. James’ tonight.
Newcastle may have been boosted by results elsewhere on Saturday, but are without a win in 3 themselves, with our dismal defeat at Ipswich this time last week causing real concern amongst fans.
With the prize at stake, the team must seize their moment and show the sort of energy, enthusiasm and desire that was displayed against Leeds in our last home game.
Not only is this a huge opportunity to seal our return to the Premier League in front of our own fans, a win would also see us keep alive our slim title hopes, with Brighton slipping to a 2-0 defeat at Norwich on Friday night.
The Lilywhites form has, however, taken a considerable dip, seeing them lose their last 3. It is also worth noting that they are without an away win in their previous 9, winning just once on the road since the turn of the year.
Whilst we cannot afford to take anything for granted, you’d have to hope Newcastle (a team with everything to play for) show more desire than Preston – a team with very little to play for.
Top scorer Jordan Hugill will provide a physical presence up top for the visitors, with winger Aiden McGeady one to watch, having scored five goals from outside the box this season – more than any other Championship player.
The game will come too soon for Dwight Gayle who’ll sit out once again as he recovers from a hamstring injury.
Ciaran Clark has returned to full training over the past week & is in line to make a timely return to the side.
Preston look set to field a makeshift defence, with first team defenders Tom Clarke and Greg Cunningham ruled out through injury, with right-back Alex Baptiste out through suspension.
Tyias Browning could make a welcome return to the defence, however the Everton loanee will be lacking match fitness after 2 months out.
Newcastle United – (4-2-3-1) – Darlow – Anita, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett – Shelvey, Hayden – Ritchie, Perez, Gouffran – Mitrovic
FIVE changes from Ipswich?
Hanley OUT, Clark IN? Hanley was poor last Monday and will almost certainly drop out. It would be harsh on Mbemba, who did well in his last outing against Leeds, but I expect Clark to return to the side if deemed fit enough. Clark has been a key player this season and his calmness and composure has been missed in recent weeks.
Yedlin OUT, Anita IN? Yedlin may be the preferred option at right-back, especially at home, however the American looked off the pace at Ipswich last week. Anita, in contrast, was outstanding in his last outing at home to Leeds. It goes against what I usually prefer to see at St. James’ Park, but given the pairs most recent performances, I expect the Dutchman to get the nod for this one.
Atsu OUT, Gouffran IN? The Ghanaian provided the assist for Murphy’s goal at Ipswich last week, but looked low on confidence and struggled in the main. With the stakes high in front of an expectant St. James’ Park crowd, I expect a recall for the the experienced Gouffran.
Diame OUT, Perez IN? The pair tend to rotate and Diame did little at Ipswich to retain his place in the side. Perez worked his socks off in his previous appearance against Leeds and will most likely return to the side tonight.
Murphy OUT, Mitrovic IN? Murphy may have bagged a goal at Ipswich last week, but I fancy Mitrovic to get his chance once again tonight. The Serbian was superb in Newcastle’s last home game against Leeds and has tormented the visitors on more than one occasion already this term, scoring 4 goals in our previous two appearances against Preston this season.
Preston have little left to play for and recent results suggest Grayson’s side may already have one eye on their summer holidays.
While this can’t be relied upon, I expect Rafa and the team to make no mistake tonight.
They will be looking to put right the wrongs of last week and with promotion on the line, I fully expect a big effort from all involved and an even bigger three points to seal our Premier League return.
Prediction: Newcastle 3-1 Preston
Time to finish the job. Howay the lads!