Bruce has promised to take cup competitions seriously this season, so what better way to bounce back from a miserable festive period than deliver a rare FA Cup win.
In our way is a Rochdale side who’ll be bang up for this one and gunning for a big ‘giant-killing’ in front of the BT Sport cameras.
They’re struggling in League One, sitting 18th as things stand, but with us out of form, under pressure and in the middle of a major injury crisis, we’ll have to respond and be right at it if we want to get our names into the 4th Round draw.
Bruce has a few options in attack, but it’s anyone’s guess who he fields in defence, with FIVE of our six senior centre-backs either injured or in need of a rest and FOUR first-team full-backs injured.
I expect Federico Fernandez and Emil Krafth to play, however it’s hard to say who else Bruce can draft in at the back. U-23 defenders Jamie Sterry, Ludwig Francilette and Lewis Cass could feature, with all three being left out of the second string’s 3-0 win over Fulham yesterday, while Isaac Hayden has played at centre-back before so could be forced to drop back with Clark, Schar, Lascelles, Dummett and Lejeune all set to miss out.
In midfield, Shelvey is missing, so a partnership of Matt and Sean Longstaff seems likely. Ki could feature and put himself in the shop window, but the Geordie duo seem ahead of the South Korean in Bruce’s midfield pecking order.
In attack, I can see Bruce giving both Miguel Almiron and Joelinton a chance to build on their fragile confidence levels. After all, they are over £55m-worth of talent, so they should be having a field day against players in a side 18th in League One.
Muto and Gayle are also options in attack and will almost certainly feature, as could Christian Atsu – who’ll be fresh after playing just 46 minutes of football over the festive period.
Two other U-23’s who are being tipped to make the bench are Thomas Allan and Elias Sorensen (both were left out the ‘reserves’ game yesterday), so they’ll be ones to watch.
Predicted NUFC XI – (4-4-1-1) – Dubravka – Sterry, Fernandez, Hayden, Krafth – Atsu, M.Longstaff, S.Longstaff, Almiron – Joelinton – Gayle.
Here’s ‘ones to watch’ in this Rochdale side:
Luke Matheson – Born in 2002 (bet that makes you feel old!), the attacking right-back has already scored at Old Trafford in the League Cup and is reportedly being tracked by scouts on Tyneside. The 17-year-old will be looking to shine again against Premier League opposition – especially when we’re said to be watching him!
Paul McShane – The 33-year-old centre-back is not only a former Mackem but someone who played under Steve Bruce during his time with Hull City.
The good news is Matt Ritchie is expected to return to our matchday squad for the first time since August, but there’ll be a whole host of senior players missing.
Steve Bruce has confirmed Andy Carroll won’t be risked due to a recurrence of hip/rib problem that kept him out of Man City game in November.
After all four were forced off in the 0-3 defeat to Leicester earlier this week, Fabian Schar (hamstring), Jetro Willems (groin), Javier Manquillo (hamstring) and Jonjo Shelvey (hamstring) have been ruled out, while Florian Lejeune is likely to be rested after Bruce admitted he was overplayed during the festive period.
DeAndre Yedlin will also be missing after injuring his hand on Wednesday, although Bruce has insisted it is NOT broken – suggesting he’ll be back before long.
Elsewhere, the game will also come too soon for Paul Dummett, Ciaran Clark, Jamaal Lascelles and Allan Saint-Maximin. The defensive trio are in contention for next weekend’s trip to Wolves, but today’s trip to Rochdale will come too soon for all four.
Based on our recent history in the FA Cup, our recent form in the league and our ridiculous number of injuries, it’s hard to see us winning this at a canter.
That said, we’ll be looking to bounce back after losing our last three, and you’d like to think our mix of experiences pros (Dubravka, Fernandez), squad players with a point to prove (Krafth, Atsu, Muto, Gayle) and youngsters likely to get a chance (Longstaff’s and other U-23’s) will be able to get the job done.
Prediction: Rochdale 1-3 Newcastle