After a second half collapse at Spotland, we return to St James’s Park for an FA Cup replay against Rochdale that we really could’ve done without.
Some may argue that it’s a chance to build confidence for several out of form players, but with so many injuries and a tough game against Chelsea awaiting in just a few days time, Bruce will be hoping we come through this unscathed and put our name in the fourth round of the FA Cup, with a winnable home tie with Oxford awaiting.
Rochdale will have come away from our first encounter feeling they could have won it late on, but, if the truth be told, we absolutely dominated in the first half and should have put the game out of sight.
Instead we took a 0-1 lead into the break and gave Rochdale that glimmer of hope they desperately needed heading into the break. That cant happen this time around.
We must take our chances when they come and stay focused and hungry for the entire 90 – not just the first 45.
Starting at the back, skipper Jamaal Lascelles is back, but Dummett and Schar will miss out with muscle injuries.
I don’t see Bruce playing recently injured Ciaran Clark twice in four days, so wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Lejeune, Lascelles and Krafth in a three-man defence, with the latter playing on the right-side of a back three at Rochdale.
At wing-back, Ritchie looks set to return – which will be great to see – while I’d expect Yedlin to play down the right if he’s deemed fit enough to start. He missed out at Wolves but was pictured in training on Thursday, so hopefully he can make it given the problems he caused Rochdale in our first game.
In midfield, I get the feeling Matty Longstaff may be slightly more ready and capable of playing than brother Sean, so I can see him partnering Hayden in the middle.
Out wide, Atsu seems highly likely to start. He was woeful at Wolves, but tore Rochdale’s right-back to shreds in the opening half an hour at Spotland. Miguel Almiron could also play if deemed fit enough, but the likes of Tom Allan will be on standby if Bruce feels starting the Paraguayan would be too much of a risk after his all action display at Wolves over the weekend.
Up top, I can see Joelinton getting a chance to gain a much needed confidence boost via a goal or two IF his groin is fine. He trained on Thursday and, with Gayle out, Muto still missing (by the looks of yesterday’s Thursday’s photos) and Carroll likely to be saved for Chelsea, I can see the Brazilian getting the nod. He’s yet to score at St James’ Park, so I can see Bruce giving him his chance to get that monkey off his back.
Put a few past them in the first half and I can see the likes of Allan and Francilette coming on.
Predicted NUFC XI – (3-4-3): Dubravka – Krafth, Lascelles, Lejeune – Yedlin, Hayden, M Longstaff, Ritchie – Atsu, Joelinton, Almiron.
Here’s ‘ones to watch’ in this Rochdale side:
Aaron Wilbraham – The 40-year-old striker came on and changed the game for Rochdale at HT in our last meeting. Gave them a real physical presence up top and scored the equaliser that ultimately sent this one to a replay!
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. He played a key role in their equaliser last time out and did well to contain Atsu, who was tearing their starting RB apart early on but didn’t get much joy vs Matheson.
Matt Ritchie looks set to start for the first time since injuring his ankle ligaments back in August, while skipper Jamaal Lascelles has also been tipped to return by Steve Bruce.
The game will come too soon for Shelvey, Saint-Maximin, Schar, Manquillo, Muto and Ki, but Krafth and Yedlin could return after training on Thursday.
Youngsters Francillette, Cass, Allan and Sorensen could feature after being spotted training with the senior team this week.
If we’d finished our chances in the first half at Rochdale we could’ve come away with a 1-3 or 1-4 win.
With that in mind, I’d back us to win this one fairly convincingly – but it’ll all come down to our ability to A) take them seriously as we did in the first 45 last time out and B) punish them when big opportunities come our way.
I think Bruce will field another strong side and we’ll win pretty comfortably.
Prediction: Newcastle 3-1 Rochdale