With tricky games against Manchester United, Everton and Leicester coming up after Christmas, this feels like a big chance for us to stay on track.
Our recent form has featured far more good results than bad ones, seeing us pull away from the bottom three, but last weekend’s dismal defeat at Burnley brought us back down to earth with a bump.
A win will take us into Christmas on 25 points and into the top 10, but lose and we could be sucked back into a battle at the bottom should Southampton win in their huge game at Villa this weekend.
It’s been a brilliant first-half of the season in the circumstances, so let’s hope we can dig in once again against a Palace who rarely lose on the road.
They’ve been early doubts all week, but Bruce hinted that Almiron and Shelvey will be fit to return for this one, meaning we’re likely to see a couple of changes from the side that lost at Burnley.
Atsu and Longstaff were both very poor at Turf Moor so seem like the obvious candidates to drop out. That said, will Bruce use Joelinton out wide again now he’s got two wingers fit in Almiron and Atsu? Will Carroll be fit enough to start back-to-back games? Will Gayle get a rare chance in the side against his former club?
At the back, Bruce may be tempted to give Yedlin a run out to deal with Zaha’s pace on the counter, yet it would take a brave man to drop Javier Manquillo on current form. He was arguably our best player at Burnley and has been rock solid in recent weeks.
Then there’s Florian Lejeune. With Clark and Lascelles out, could the Frenchman return against the side he was taken off on a stretcher against back in April? With us needing more creativity at home without Saint-Maximin, Bruce may be considering the ball-playing Frenchman.
Preferred NUFC XI – (5-2-2-1) – Dubravka – Manquillo, Schar, Fernandez, Dummett, Willems – Hayden, Shelvey – Almiron, Joelinton – Carroll.
Here’s ‘ones to watch’ in Roy Hodgson’s side:
Wilfred Zaha – It goes without saying that Zaha is their key man and talisman up top. His skill, explosive pace and power will mean whoever starts at right-back will need to be bang at it to live with him. Keep him quiet and you often stop Crystal Palace.
Vicente Guaita – He’s kept 3 clean sheets in Palace’s last 4 games and is a very good shot stopper. Without him they’d have been beaten comfortably by Brighton last week, so it may take something special to beat the in-form Spaniard here.
Max Meyer – The highly-rated German international has done very little since making the shock move to Palace last summer, but changed the game in their 1-1 draw with Brighton earlier this week. With so many injured, the midfield maestro could be handed a rare start at St James’ this weekend.
Predicted Palace XI (4-3-3): Guiata – Kelly, Tomkins, Dann,
Bruce hinted in his Friday presser that Miguel Almiron and Jonjo Shelvey should return, with both coming through training on Thursday.
Saint-Maximin will miss out once again with a hamstring injury, Clark and Ki won’t make it and Lascelles and Ritchie remain out until the new year with respective knee and ankle injuries.
After returning to the squad for the first time in 7 months last weekend, Florian Lejeune could be one to watch.
Palace are facing a big injury crisis heading into this one, with Hodgson confirming that Townsend, Cahill, Schlupp, Sakho, Ward and Riedewald are out.
Scott Dann is also facing a late fitness test, but star man Patrick Van Aanholt could return after several weeks out.
Not to sound like scrooge, but I initially thought we’d lose this one with us coming up against a Palace side (who are very good on the road) without our key man Allan Saint-Maximin.
That said, they now have huge injury issues of their and we look set to have Almiron and Shelvey back, so the tables have turned slightly.
They will still be tough to break down and, with the dangerous Zaha up top, can pose a real threat on the counter.
It’s not quite the result we’d want heading into Christmas, but I can see this being a close game and score draw.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-1 Crystal Palace.
Howay the lads!