With promotion confirmed just 4 days ago, Newcastle United’s busy schedule continues tonight with a trip to face Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City.
Whilst Monday’s victory should settle the nerves following several edgy performances, the players must remain focused, with a win tonight being of vital importance if we are to stay in the title race.
As the table below shows, victory would put us just 1 point behind Brighton. Even with a United win tonight, Brighton could still be confirmed as title winners should they beat Bristol City on Saturday, but it would certainly pile the pressure on Hughton’s men to get the job done.
Like Preston, Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City are sitting comfortably in mid-table, residing in 13th place.
Cardiff’s recent home form has been impressive of late however, with 4 wins and 2 draws in their last 6 at the Cardiff City stadium (see left).
Top scorer Kenneth Zohore is one to watch, with 11 goals this season, whilst Peter Whittingham has been their top creator this term, assisting 7 goals for the Bluebirds.
Newcastle will be without several first team players for tonight’s game.
Benitez confirmed yesterday that Jamaal Lascelles, Vurnon Anita, Grant Hanley and Jesus Gamez will all miss out after picking up minor knocks.
Matt Ritchie will also miss out after being handed a two-game ban by the FA for abusive language towards an official following Newcastle’s 1-1 draw to Leeds earlier in the month.
The game will come too soon for Dwight Gayle once again, with the striker hoping to return for United’s final game of the season.
For the hosts, Kenneth Zohore is set to return to the starting line up after being rested at Wigan over the weekend, whilst Sol Bamba remains out.
Newcastle United – (4-2-3-1) – Elliot – Yedlin, Mbemba, Clark, Dummett – Shelvey, Hayden – Atsu, Perez, Gouffran – Murphy
FOUR changes from Preston?
Lascelles OUT, Mbemba IN? With Lascelles and Hanley both ruled out of this one, I fully expect Mbemba to be given another chance in the side. Mbemba hasn’t featured in the previous 2 games but was impressive in his last appearance against Leeds. Should he start, it will be interesting to see how he plays alongside Ciaran Clark, with the pair undoubtedly being our most gifted, ball playing centre-backs.
Anita OUT, Yedlin IN? Benitez confirmed Anita has been playing with a knock in recent weeks and his absence will almost certainly see the return of DeAndre Yedlin at right-back. Yedlin looked way off the pace in his comeback appearance at Ipswich so Benitez will be hoping for an improved display from the American tonight.
Ritchie OUT, Gouffran IN? Ritchie’s suspension is perhaps the biggest blow of all going into this one. Barring a surprise recall for Sammy Ameobi, I fully expect Benitez to recall Yoann Gouffran to the side.
Mitrovic OUT, Murphy IN? Mitrovic played the full 90 against Preston just 4 days ago and could be rested. Murphy struggled in general in the 3-1 defeat at Ipswich last week, but he knows where the back of the net is and could well be given the nod tonight.
I’m hoping Newcastle play with freedom after the relief of securing promotion on Monday, but i’m not convinced that’s Rafa’s style.
Whilst tonight’s game is pivotal for our slim title hopes, I am unsure if we may face a hangover from this week’s promotion celebrations – as Brighton did in their recent 2-0 defeat at Norwich following confirmation of their promotion.
Given their league position, Cardiff have little to play for, which could work for or against the Magpies.
After dismal away performances at Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday recently, i’m hoping for a vast improvement, but taking into consideration our injuries and Cardiff’s home form, I think this one could be a draw.
Prediction: Cardiff 1-1 Newcastle
Here’s hoping i’m wrong for the sake of our title hopes. Howay the lads!