I honestly think this is one of THE biggest games of Steve Bruce’s time on Tyneside.
On paper we’re in a solid position, being 10th in the table and through to the Carabao Cup quarter finals, however we’ve rode our luck and played awful in the majority of our games so far.
Fans are aware that, as things stand, our style of play is turgid and that things will only be going one way if performance levels and playing styles don’t seriously improve – with the scary stat of just three shots on target in our opening three Premier League games being an alarming one.
Burnley won’t come here and take the game to us like Brighton did either, or at least they shouldn’t be allowed to, so the pressure is on to approach this one in the right way and get at a struggling side we really should be beating.
After all, Bruce can’t hide behind excuses this time around if the likes of Wilson, Almiron, Saint-Maximin and Fraser can’t cause them problems.
Jamaal Lascelles could miss out with a hamstring issue, but Allan Saint-Maximin has been backed to return after training all week.
Fabian Schar is available again and could step in if the skipper isn’t deemed fit enough, with Ciaran Clark (thigh), Paul Dummett (hamstring) and Emil Krafth (hip) all looking set to miss out.
Elsewhere, Matt Ritchie is our latest long-term absentee after undergoing shoulder surgery, joining Martin Dubravka (ankle), Dwight Gayle (knee) and Matty Longstaff on the sidelines.
Predicted line up
Predicted NUFC XI (4-2-3-1): Darlow – Manquillo, Schar, Fernandez, Lewis – Hayden, Shelvey, – Saint-Maximin, Almiron, Joelinton – Wilson.
If Lascelles is fit he starts, but with Bruce confirming he’s a doubt and Schar now fit again and featuring at Newport, the Swiss centre-back looks like our only option to come in.
Hayden will likely start alongside Shelvey – although there’ll be calls for Hendrick to play in his preferred position against his former club.
To fit in the Irishman, Bruce could easily play him on the right-hand side as he did at West Ham, however I feel Wilson and Almiron are nailed on to start, as is Saint-Maximin when he’s fit – and I don’t see how we can leave Joelinton out after he was our best outfield player at Spurs and helped change the game when coming on from the bench in another improved outing at Newport.
I also feel Bruce knows he has to go for it against Burnley to help win over his doubters, so an attacking front four seems likely.
Here’s a few ones to watch in Sean Dyche’s Clarets side:
Dwight McNeil – Burnley’s most talented player and a brilliant crosser of the ball. Manquillo was poor at Newport, so needs to be much better here to cut out the sort of quality service Chris Wood thrives on in the box.
Chris Wood – The big Kiwi is dominant in the air and an underrated goalscorer, bagging 34 goals in his last three Premier League seasons. If Lascelles is out, it could be a tough physical battle for whoever’s forced to step in – especially if Ashley Barnes partners him!
James Tarkowski – He looked likely to join West Ham a few weeks back, however Burnley have rejected several bigs and brought him back into their side for the first time this season in a midweek cup defeat to Man City. He’s a brute in the air who’ll cause problems in both boxes if selected.
Nick Pope – One of the best goalkeepers in the division who narrowly missed out on the Premier League golden glove last season with 15 clean sheets. We’ve scored with every shot on target we’ve had so far this season, however he’ll be looking to get his first shut-out of 2020/21 here.
Predicted Burnley XI: (4-4-2) Pope – Bardsley, Long, Tarkowski, Taylor – Brownhill, Stephens, Westwood, McNeil – Barnes, Wood.
I’m far from confident based on Bruce’s uninspiring comments and some of the atrocious performances we’ve put in so far this season, but I think we’ll just about get the job done here.
Burnley have had an unsettled start to the new season and Sean Dyche looks a frustrated man after failing to be backed in the transfer window.
They’ll sit back, be stubborn and difficult to break down at times – and Lascelles’ presence could be missed at the other end when they throw high balls into the box – however I think Wilson will bag his first goal at St James’ Park and think we’ll benefit from having Saint-Maximin back in the side.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-1 Burnley