Our biggest game of the season to date and a must win if we want to get our season back on track?
I keep telling myself not to put *too* much pressure on this one given our wretched home record and the injury issues we’re dealing with, but this really does feel like it could be a turning point.
The midweek replay at Blackburn took its toll – with us going to extra time and picking up several knocks we could’ve done without – but it was a much needed win which will hopefully give us confidence heading into this one.
Any takeover or transfer news has dried up, but a win tomorrow would be the perfect antidote to the total lack of activity elsewhere.
Here’s the team I’d like to see, followed by the side I expect Rafa to go with:
Diame’s return could be huge – but it will all depend on whether he does pass a late fitness test. Rafa may not risk him and opt to have Hayden partnering Longstaff instead, but big Mo’s presence could be key against a physical Cardiff side.
Many may be surprised if Rafa went without Schar – someone whose ball playing ability can be key at home. However, Cardiff are a physical side who’ll throw balls into the box, so I can’t see us going without the likes of Lascelles (if fit) or Fernandez. Lejeune also seems likely to play given how good he’s looked on his return from a serious knee injury – not forgetting the fact he got a rest in midweek while Schar played the full 120 minutes.
The rest of the team pretty much picks itself right now for me, with Atsu earning his spot over an out of sorts Kenedy and Ritchie likely to operate as a wing-back once again – providing Rafa does stick with five at the back..
Predicted NUFC XI – (5-2-2-1) – Dubravka– Yedlin, Lascelles, Fernandez, Lejeune, Ritchie – Longstaff, Hayden – Perez, Atsu – Rondon.
Here’s a few ‘ones to watch’ in the Cardiff side:
Victor Camarasa – The Spaniard, on loan from Real Betis, looks like their classiest and most creative player every time I watch them. He scored a late stunner in their late win at Leicester a few weeks ago and seems to have an eye for a pass or a goal. They generally lack quality in their side, but he is one of few exceptions.
Neil Etheridge – The big goalkeeper has been key for them this season, keeping 6 clean sheets and making several impressive saves in games they would’ve lost without him. He was the man who saved Kenedy’s late penalty in Cardiff back in August..
Josh Murphy – The brother of our very own Jacob Murphy and a player who’s looked the better twin from what I’ve seen of him. Manquillo couldn’t get close to him the last time the two sides met.
Ecuele Manga – The 6ft 3′ defender is a centre-back playing at right-back and someone we didn’t expose in our first meeting thanks to Kenedy’s horror show. He’s a solid defender, but Atsu could get the better of him IF he turns up and has a go.
Predicted Cardiff XI – (4-1-4-1) Etheridge – Ecuele Manga, Morrison, Bamba, Bennett – Gunnarsson – Hoillett, Camarasa, Arter, Murphy – Paterson.
Shelvey and Dummett have been ruled out, but Diame and Lascelles will both be assessed late on after returning to training. Kenedy is set to return after overcoming a toe injury, with Rafa ‘optimistic’ that Clark, Hayden and Schar will be fine after picking up knocks in midweek.
Club captain and starting centre-back Morrison could miss out for Cardiff, with Warnock also confirming that three unnamed players are facing late fitness tests.
Imminent club record signing Emiliano Sala won’t sign in time to make the squad, but Everton loanee Oumar Niasse is available and could make his debut.
We’ve been struggling to score goals at home, so the fact Cardiff have kept three clean sheets in their last 4 in the league isn’t ideal – especially when two were away at Palace and Leicester.
They’ll pose a real physical threat and will be a tough nut to crack, but I fancy us to get that all important win in this one.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-0 Cardiff
Howay the lads!