With a win over Chelsea last weekend and an unbelievable late draw at Everton in midweek, our relegation fears are easing, with us just 10 points away from that 40-point mark already. But we want more than that.
Each season shouldn’t be about merely ‘surviving’, and we’ve longed for the club to take the Cups seriously – so here’s our chance.
Beat Oxford United on Saturday and we we will reach the 5th Round of the FA Cup for the first time since 2006!
It’s not a stat to be proud of but it shows what a huge chance this game represents, and it seems fans have grasped that, with a crowd of over 50,000 expected to be inside St James’ Park on Saturday afternoon.
Our opponents sit 5th in League One so are no non-league Mugs, but with Bruce set to play a full strength side, let’s hope we arrive with the right attitude and have too much for them!
Bruce is clearly taking the cup seriously and rightly so, vowing to name a strong side against the team that beat Rafa Benitez’s NUFC 3-0 in the FA Cup back in 2016.
Lejeun is out, but it would be no surprise to see Schar make his first start in a few weeks here, meaning one of Fernandez, Lascelles or Clark could drop out.
At wing-back, Ritchie looks likely to start again, while Hayden seems likely to play down our right-hand side once again, with Yedlin, Manquillo and Krafth out and Lazaro not eligible to play until next weekend.
In midfield, Shelvey will return and could be partnered by one of the Longstaff’s. Bentaleb has been declared fit to play, but he too seems more likely to make a late cameo from the bench after failing to play a senior game since last April.
In attack, Saint-Maximin and Almiron look set to start either side of Joelinton – with the latter our only fit striker now Carroll, Gayle and Muto are still injured and Atsu likely to be dropped after his anonymous display at Everton.
Predicted NUFC XI – (3-4-1-2): Dubravka – Schar, Lascelles, Clark – Atsu, Bentaleb, Shelvey, Ritchie – Almiron – Saint-Maximin, Joelinton).
Oxford United may be in the same league as our 3rd Round opponents Rochdale, but they’re performing much better in League One this season.
While Rochdale sit 18th and battle to avoid a drop down into League Two, Oxford sit 5th – one place above Sunderland – and in the mix to earn promotion to the Championship this summer.
Their recent form in all competitions has been as follows:
- Gillingham 1-1 OXFORD
- OXFORD 0-0 Ipswich
- OXFORD 1-3 Rotherham
- OXFORD 4-1 Hartlepool (FA Cup)
- Doncaster 1-0 OXFORD
So, just one win in their last five – and that came in the last round of the FA Cup against a Hartlepool side in the fifth tier of English football.
One player to watch will be former England U-19 attacker and current top scorer James Henry, who has 11 goals and 5 assists for them this season.
Ex-QPR forward Jamie Mackie could also feature.
NUFC new boy Nabil Bentaleb is set to make his debut, but the club have confirmed that Valentino Lazaro will NOT be available – with him set to feature against Norwich next weekend after missing the deadline to play tomorrow.
Saint-Maximin and Shelvey look set to return, but Carroll, Lejeune, Dummett, Willems, Gayle, Muto, Manquillo, Yedlin, Ki and Krafth are all set to miss out.
It’ll be a packed out St James’ Park desperate for FA Cup success, so if the strong side Bruce picks are up for it and at it I can only see this one going one way.
We’re on a high after a big point at Wolves, hammering Rochdale, winning late vs Chelsea and rescuing an unbelievable point at Everton in midweek, so hopefully we arrive full of confidence but focused on the job in hand.
After several great results and a week that saw us secure two potentially brilliant signings in Bentaleb and Lazaro, a win here really would be the cherry on top!
Prediction: Newcastle 3-1 Oxford