After expecting a response following that dismal defeat at Southampton and failing to get anything close to one against Chelsea, there’ll be absolutely no room for excuses if we aren’t ‘at it’ here.
Steve Bruce’s ‘work in progress’ needs to start working – he’s had over 16 months to find a formation that works and implement this ‘exciting’ brand of football he vowed to move towards – and the players need to wake up from the comatose state ‘Bruce-ball’ has left them in, with the lack of energy, fight or intensity pretty alarming in our last two defeats.
Results are finally starting to reflect the abysmal level of performance we’re seeing most weekends, yet the fixtures awaiting us between now and Boxing Day look VERY generous on paper.
We start with a trip to Palace, then play Villa, West Brom, Leeds and Fulham before our Cup quarter final at Brentford – fixtures that could either see Bruce hit back at the haters and steady what we fear is a sinking ship, or see us smash into an iceberg and be embroiled in a relegation scrap should our awful performances continue.
For me, we’re now entering one of the most crucial periods of Steve Bruce’s time in charge.
A much improved performance and much needed win at Palace may just ease fan frustrations or lift that turgid level of apathy that’s taken over most on matchdays, but lose via another soulless display and we’ll be entering the festive period in free fall.
Steve Bruce has confirmed that we have a few niggles and a couple of COVID concerns – and rumour is that the latter will see Isaac Hayden miss out.
Allan Saint-Maximin is also missing with a ‘calf injury’ – although The Mail’s Craig Hope claims he was set to be dropped before he picked up a knock.
The good news, however, is that Callum Wilson WILL return for this one after training all week, while Jonjo Shelvey and Matt Ritchie are expected to feature after making a full recovery from recent operations.
Jamaal Lascelles is a ‘doubt’, Ryan Fraser has been ruled out, Andy Carroll has a ‘calf inury’, Dwight Gayle is back in training but unlikely to return to action this weekend and both Martin Dubravka and Paul Dummett remain sidelined.
For the hosts, Wilfried Zaha is missing with COVID-19, while Luka Milivojevic remains suspended.
Predicted line up
(4-2-3-1): Darlow – Manquillo, Fernandez, Clark, Lewis – Shelvey, S Longstaff – Ritchie, Almiron, Joelinton – Wilson.
Who knows what he’ll go with, but I’m hoping we revert back to a four-man defence here – and see absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t.
Darlow will continue in goal and, if we return to a back four, I can see Clark keeping his place and starting alongside Fernandez IF Lascelles does miss out.
If the skipper is fit, I think it may be Fernandez who drops out (providing we go with a back four), with the usually rock-solid Argentine making costly errors in our last two games.
At full-back, Lewis is the only option down the left, but it’ll be interesting to see if Bruce goes sticks with Manquillo or hands a recall to Krafth.
I personally think the Spaniard is our best right-back, although Bruce has often opted for the Swede when he’s gone with a four-man defence…
In the middle of the park, Sean Longstaff was one of very few who did OK against Chelsea, so he looks likely to partner the returning Jonjo Shelvey now Hayden’s rumoured to be missing with COVID.
In attack, I have a feeling Bruce will bring Matt Ritchie back into the side given our lack of energy and bite in recent weeks, so can see him starting down the right.
Jacob Murphy is an option, but he struggled against Chelsea and may drop down to the bench for this one.
Now we know Saint-Maximin will be missing, Joelinton could operate down the left, with Almiron back in a No 10 role just behind the returning Wilson.
Here’s a few ones to watch in Roy Hodgson’s Palace side:
Eberechi Eze – With Wilfried Zaha ruled out with COVID, they’ll be hoping to see their exciting new left winger step up in his absence. Eze is a player I really wanted us to go for over the summer, being skilful, direct and technically gifted. He put in his best display for the Eagles in their 4-1 win over Leeds (their last game at Selhurst Park) and could be the big one to watch here.
Patrick Van Aanholt – The former NUFC loanee is fit again and loves to get forward. He scored against us in this fixture last season and could pose a threat again if we give them too much freedom down that left-hand side.
Michy Batshuayi – The Belgian on loan from Chelsea is yet to score for them in the league this season, but he is another they’ll be turning to in Zaha’s absence. He is offside a LOT and can be on the fringes of games, however he’s a ruthless finisher on his day. Hopefully Wilson outdoes him in that department here.
Predicted Palace XI: (4-4-2): Guiata – Clyne, Cahill, Kouyate, Van Aanholt – Townsend, McCarthur, Riedawald, Eze – Ayew, Batshuayi.
I’m semi-expecting Bruce to go with a more attacking formation and ring the changes. Something different is certainly needed, as a performance anything like our last two will see us beaten.
Palace are without Zaha, but have a few more attacking outlets these days in Eze and Batshuayi and don’t give much away at the back either.
With them without their talisman and us having Wilson back, this should be a game we attack in search of a much needed win, but I think we’ll be cautious no matter what the formation and Crystal Palace tough to break down.
Fearing another defeat, hoping for a welcome win, but predicting a low-scoring draw!
Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-1 Newcastle