With us struggling to score in the league and edging closer and closer to a dreaded relegation battle, the FA Cup could be Steve Bruce’s only saving grace.
The win over Oxford put us in the 5th round for the first time since 2006, but a win at the Hawthorns will take us into the quarter finals – and just ONE big performance away from a semi at Wembley.
I’m getting ahead of myself already, yet this is what the cup can do to you. It allows you to dream and wonder just what if, giving us some welcome distraction from a league season which promises to end up in us narrowly staying up at best.
In front of us are a top of the table West Brom side who look on course to return to the Premier League this summer.
That said, their shock defeat to Wigan over the weekend could mean Slaven Bilic picks a slightly weakened side once again, with his recent selections in the FA Cup suggesting they’re very much prioritising promotion over a trip to Wembley.
(5-2-2-1): Darlow – Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles, Lejeune, Ritchie – Shelvey, S Longstaff – Lazaro, Almiron – Joelinton.
Darlow has played in the last few rounds, but Bruce may be tempted to go with the reliable Dubravka now we’re a win away from the quarters.
At the back, I can’t see Manquillo playing twice in a few days after over 6 weeks out, meaning it may well be between Yedlin and Lazaro – but it’ll all depend on formation.
If we’re playing five at the back I can see Lazaro starting, yet another 4-2-3-1 could mean Yedlin at right-back and Lazaro ahead of him on the right wing?
At centre-back, again it’ll all come to the system Bruce opts for. If we go with five at the back I can see Schar, Lascelles and Lejeune being the back three, with Ritchie at left wing-back.
In midfield, Shelvey is another who Bruce may be reluctant to play twice in 4 days given he’s A) only just returned from injury on Saturday and B) is one of our key players. That said, can the likes of Bentaleb or the Longstaff’s be trusted in arguably the club’s biggest game of the season?
In attack, Saint-Maximin looks very likely to miss out sadly, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Lazaro plays slightly further up.
It also remains to be seen if Atsu is fit or whether Bruce will stick with Ritchie in an advanced role should he opt to play a 4-2-3-1 again.
I’d like to see Joelinton play out wide again and Almiron at no.10 – which is undoubtedly his best position – but I’m unsure if Gayle’s hamstring will allow him to play 2 games in 4 days after putting in a real shift on Saturday.
With Carroll injured and Muto unlikely to start after failing to even make Bruce’s squad on Saturday, hopefully Gayle is OK to start against his former loan club.
Preferred NUFC XI – (4-2-3-1) – Dubravka – Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles, Ritchie – Shelvey, S Longstaff – Lazaro, Almiron, Joelinton – Gayle.
Allan Saint-Maximin is a major doubt after having ‘ongoing problems’ with his back and hamstring, while Andy Carroll has also been ruled out once again.
Valentino Lazaro is back from a ban, while the likes of Yedlin, Schar, Lejeune, Bentaleb and the two Longstaff’s will be hoping for recalls after missing out on Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Burnley.
Clark, Dummett and Willems remain long-term absentees, while it remains to be seen if Krafth, Muto or Atsu could return to Steve Bruce’s squad.
For the hosts, Bilic has confirmed former Arsenal left-back Kieran Gibbs will start, but Grady Diangana will miss out along with Ahmed Hegazi – who injured his hamstring in their 0-1 defeat to Wigan on Saturday.
If this one was a league game it would have a scruffy draw written all over it, but the reality is that someone will be progressing to the quarter finals no matter what on Tuesday, with all 5th round ties being decided on the night.
Hopefully we can take advantage of the fact they’ll have one eye on the league (and may rest a few key players as a result), but it could be a real blow for us if our hero at Oxford (Allan Saint-Maximin) missed out.
I don’t think it’ll be pretty, but I see us going through on penalties thanks to some heroics from one of Darlow or Dubravka!
Prediction: West Brom 1-1 Newcastle (NUFC to win on penalties!)