After West Brom last weekend and Leeds in midweek, we come up against another newly promoted side in the form of Fulham on Saturday night.
They looked set to become this year’s whipping boys a few months ago, looking toothless up top and a soft touch defensively, however Scott Parker has got them looking much more competent at both end in recent weeks.
Last weekend we played poorly but still had too much for a battling Baggies side completely lacking in quality, but I think we’ll have to be much better defensively this time around to see off a Fulham side who’ll come into this one quietly confident after surprise results over Leicester and Liverpool.
As for us, it’s vital Bruce fields a side that have enough in the tank to get at them from the off, with the after effects of that Covid outbreak catching up with this in that late capitulation at Leeds.
It was just a few days ago we arrived at Leeds on the up after back-to-back wins, but lose against Fulham and we could soon be dragged into a dog fight – especially with our post-Christmas fixtures consisting of Man City, Liverpool and Leicester!
A big game to get us back on track and well clear of trouble.
Thankfully, Steve Bruce has confirmed that there’s no new injuries heading into this one, but it seems the after effects of Covid will sidelined Allan Saint-Maximin, Jamaal Lascelles, Fabian Schar and Javier Manquillo once again this weekend.
The NUFC boss stated in Friday’s presser that the virus has had a “damaging effect” on some, stating two unnamed players are unlikely to return over the festive period.
Elsewhere, Mark Gillespie’s return in midweek shows he’s fit again, but the game will come too soon for Martin Dubravka and Paul Dummett once again.
For the visitors, Scott Parker has hinted at changes before kick-off, feeling the side he named in recent draws to Liverpool and Fulham can’t play three games in seven days. With that in mind, it’ll be interesting to see if ex-Mag Aleksandar Mitrovic returns from his spell on the bench.
Predicted line up
Predicted NUFC XI (4-4-1-1): Darlow – Krafth, Fernandez, Clark, Lewis – Almiron, Hayden, Shelvey, Ritchie – Joelinton – Wilson.
Starting at the back, I can see Krafth coming in at right-back. Murphy was good going forward and a threat when he got moved up to the right wing, but I’m not sure Bruce will match him up against the dangerous Ademola Lookman after he struggled to cope defensively at Elland Road. You could argue Krafth could be done for pace by the RB Leipzig loanee, however he was rested in midweek and Manquillo remains absent.
I think Lewis needs taking out of the team, but the lack of natural options at left-back (when playing a flat back four) means he’s more than likely to continue.
In midfield, Shelvey will almost certainly return, but I think Sean Longstaff is another who needs a rest. Not only did he look leggy at Leeds, he dithered on the ball in bad areas and simply isn’t playing well enough to warrant a start for me. Bruce may well shift Hendrick into the centre, but if Hayden is fit enough to play again I can see him partnering Shelvey.
Out wide, Almiron seems likely to be recalled after a rest at Leeds – especially when he got on the scoresheet in our last home win over West Brom. On the other wing I’m hoping to see Fraser get another start, but it may be asking a lot for him to play twice in four days – despite the fact he helped create both goals at Leeds. With that in mind, I think Ritchie will come back in after his rest in midweek.
Up top, it’s likely Joelinton continues just behind Callum Wilson. Gayle will be knocking on the door after his goal made all the difference in our last home game, however his proven quality against Championship sides makes him guaranteed to start at Brentford next Tuesday for me.
Here’s a few ones to watch in Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds side:
Ademola Lookman – The RB Leipzig loanee almost signed at St James’ Park earlier this year and has really impressed me whenever I’ve watched Fulham. Quick feet, direct, very quick and looks to have decent final product too, weighing in with a couple of goals and assists so far this season. We’re weak at right-back so he could be the main man to stop.
Frank Zambo-Anguissa – If Fulham go down, I’d love to see us make a move for the powerful Cameroonian – a player who offers a few key traits our midfield sorely lacks. His big frame and quick feet are a unique mix, with him high in the Premier League charts for tackles, interceptions and completed dribbles.
Aleksandar Mitrovic – He’s not started in any of Fulham’s last four games, but Parker has hinted at rotation ahead of this one and he could well come back in. Whether you loved him or hated him during his time on Tyneside, he’s their best striker and a real brute on his day.
Predicted Fulham XI: (3-4-2-1): Areola – Aina, Anerson, Adarabioyo – Ried, Anguissa, Reed, Robinson – Loftus-Cheek, Lookman – Mitrovic.
As I’ve said earlier in the piece, I think Fulham will come into this with their tails up and believing they can win.
Thankfully, we’ve come out on top at St James’ Park against most sides outside the ‘big six’ so far this season, beating Burnley, Everton and West Brom since that 0-3 defeat to Brighton, however I’m expecting a tough game here.
I think their pace will cause our defence problems, but with Wilson up top I always fancy us that bit more in games like this.
Hoping for a win that would send us into Christmas in a comfy position, however I see this ending all square.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-1 Fulham