Barely 48 hours on from our brilliant victory at Brammal Lane and we’re back at it again, with an in-form Southampton side due to arrive at St James’ Park this weekend.
The Saints come into this one on the back of two huge 2-1 wins over relegation rivals Watford and Norwich, but there’s absolutely not reason why we can’t come away with another big three points here.
It feels like our side is finally starting to gel, with Bruce getting the balance just right in recent weeks between bodies behind the ball and intensity in attacking areas when we get the chance to counter.
Beating Sheffield United was a strong statement and great start to our busy festive schedule, but win here and we’ll momentarily have eyes on a top-half finish – not a fight for survival.
Bruce will be reluctant to change a winning team, but with us set to face a ruthless run of fixtures between now and new years day, I’d expect the odd alteration.
One on Sunday will be the return of Joelinton for me. Andy Carroll put in a big shift in place of the Brazilian at Brammal Lane, but can he really start two games in four days after so long out?
In midfield, Sean Longstaff will be pushing for a recall, yet with Hayden our key ball winner and battler in midfield and Shelvey showing some superb form with the captains armband, I don’t see either being left out just yet.
At the back, Manquillo deserves another chance to impress at right wing-back, whether Yedlin’s fit or not, while Dummett, Clark and Fernandez have barely put a foot wrong in our last two.
He may have to settle for a place on the bench once again, but Fabian Schar could be one to watch this weekend. Having a player of his ability back in the side could be key in a game where we’ll be expected to create and come onto a much improved yet beatable Saints side.
Preferred NUFC XI – (5-2-2-1) – Dubravka – Manquillo, Schar, Fernandez, Clark, Willems – Hayden, Shelvey – Almiron, Saint-Maximin – Carroll.
Here’s a few key men to watch out for in Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Saints side:
Danny Ings – No player in the bottom half of the Premier League has scored more than the former Liverpool striker this season, with him scoring 8 times in 15 games so far for the Saints. He’s scored in each of his last FOUR games and will be looking to add to his tally here. A sharp finisher who never needs a second invitation to shoot in and around the box.
Moussa Djenepo – The former Standard Liege winger made a £14m move from Belgian over the summer and has quietly caught the eye with some bursts of pace, impressive dribbling and moments of magic, scoring two brilliant goals in early-season wins over Brighton and Sheffield United. One to watch for Jetro Willems.
James Ward-Prowse – A dead ball specialist who has the ability to deliver inch perfect balls into the box or put a 25-yard free-kick into the top corner. Both he and Jonjo Shelvey have bags of ability, so let’s hope the latter comes out on top this Sunday.
Predicted Southampton XI (4-4-2): McCarthy – Cedric, Stephens, Bednarek, Bertrand – Djenepo, Ward-Prowse, Højbjerg, Redmond – Ings, Long.
Andy Carroll started in Sheffield on Thursday, but Joelinton is being tipped for a recall, with the 6ft 4′ Gateshead-born battering ram unlikely to play two games in four days.
Jamaal Lascelles and Matt Ritchie remain out, while it’s not yet known if Florian Lejeune could return to the squad after several months out.
Stuart Armstrong (hamstring) has been ruled out, while wing wizard Sofiane Boufal (toe) will be monitored.
Fans will arrive to the ground with a spring in their step ahead of this one, with us stifling the champions and beating a brilliant Sheffield Utd side in their own back yard in our last two, however we can’t allow our levels to drop here.
Southampton have a newfound confidence and belief after a draw at Arsenal and back-to-backs wins took them out of the bottom three over the past week.
Danny Ings is in fine form and they have several capable attackers, with quality in central areas and pace out wide, but they don’t like defending.
It really could go either way, but I fancy us to see another score draw at St James’ Park here.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-2 Southampton
Howay the lads!