A very Happy New Year to you all folks! We hope it’s a happy and healthy one for you and your families. On the football side of things, 2018 really does look set to be a massive year for NUFC. From Stoke today (huge game), to must-needed January signings, potential new owners and the hope that we’re still a Premier League team come the middle of May. All these things will unfold over the next 6 months and it feels like a necessity for the future of Newcastle United that all these things occur for the better.
After a disappointing draw and pretty dire performance in the home draw to Brighton on Saturday, today’s trip to Stoke is another six pointer at the bottom.
We rested players last week in the hope that we’d be fresh and firing over the weekend, but we were anything but. Our most recent away game saw us pick up a vital win at West Ham, but we’ve failed to score in two home games since and will be going into this one at Stoke in a similar position to how we did against the Hammers – we cannot afford to lose.
Saturday’s performance was one to forget, and although playing soon after can be the best way to put things right, we looked surprisingly sluggish and sapped of energy – so I can’t help but worry how we’ll fare against a Stoke side that rested so many at Chelsea on Saturday.
Hughes left out most of his big hitters and practically handed Chelsea the three points in their 5-0 stuffing at Stamford Bridge. He’s admitted since that he did it with the belief that his reinvigorated first team will now be ready to beat Newcastle today, but he is a man close to the sack and they are a team shipping goals left, right and centre. Here’s hoping we can take advantage of that today and put in a repeat performance of the one that best West Ham in a similarly crucial away day recently.
Team wise it’s hard to say who Rafa will pick. We’ve seen almost 20 different NUFC men start over the past week and few have done much to nail down their place in the side. More rotation can be expected for obvious reasons, but it’s essential that the 11 that go out on that pitch today show more than they did just 48 hours ago.
Might we see something like this start today?
Wouldn’t surprise me if Diame started, but Perez’s return is likely due to him being one of few players who’ll be fresh for this one – and his defensive work could allow Rafa to go for the adventurous midfield partnership of Merino and Shelvey? Gayle and Hayden to be dropped after poor performances vs Brighton?
Teams above and below us have proven in recent weeks that they have big wins and battling performances in them and today we’re playing a side who’ve conceded more than any other in England and one whose manager’s on the brink – if there was ever a chance for us to prove that we’re good enough to survive this season, it’s today.
Win and we’ll be heading into Swansea in good spirits and in a strong position to step up our survival bid, but lose and it really will be a nightmare start to a new year that could hold the key for NUFC’s long-term future.
All that said, I’m predicting a draw here – although that really will pile the pressure on us to beat Swansea in two weeks, and that is hardly a given after our winless streak at St James’ Park.
If we can contain their attacking flare (Shaqiri), manage Peter Crouch and unsettle their leaky defence then it could quickly become toxic at the Bet365 Stadium, but energy levels and invention must be upped considerably if we want to come away with three points here.
A repeat of West Ham away would probably see us win here, but have the boys got it in them? Let’s hope so.
Prediction: Stoke 1-1 Newcastle
Howay the lads!