A change in fortunes for Newcastle United in two of our past three matches by winning away to Everton to end a five-match losing streak, before we held on with nine men to beat Southampton 3-2 a week later.
Yes, there was the disappointing 1-2 loss at home to Crystal Palace in between, but the two victories in recent weeks have given us a 10-point gap above the relegation places. That could change if Fulham pick up a result at Everton on Sunday night, but another big win for Burnley and decent point for Brighton (which sent us down to 17th!) mean little if those in the bottom three keeping failing to win.
Next up for us, a tough-looking trip to Chelsea on Monday night.
Thomas Tuchel has taken 10 points from his first four games in charge following Frank Lampard’s dismissal last month. They haven’t been scoring too many under the German, but that they have only allowed one goal during this run – and that was a freak own goal at Sheffield United last time out!
A recent switch to a 4-3-1-2 formation has worked a treat and the same approach must be adopted moving forward, with us creating many more chances, looking more comfortable and confident in possession and seeing the likes of Miguel Almiron thrive in his favoured No 10 role.
That said, there were a number of casualties in beating Southampton last weekend. Jeff Hendrick won’t be a big miss if his suspension sees Isaac Hayden move into midfield, but the loss of our star striker in Callum Wilson, best right-back Javier Manquillo and ball playing centre-back Fabian Schar for two months has left us taking two steps forward and one step back after the full-time whistle last weekend.
Wilson is a huge loss, having scored a whopping 40% of our 25 league goals so far this season – the biggest percentage from any player in the division!
Anything from a trip to Stamford Bridge is usually a bonus and this Monday night will be no different, especially without our talisman up top.
Jeff Hendrick – Suspended after that stupid second booking against Southampton.
Fabian Schar – Out with a serious knee injury.
Callum Wilson – Out with a hamstring injury.
Javier Manquillo – Out with an ankle ligament injury.
Ciaran Clark – Declared fit to return after missing out last weekend due to his wife going into labour.
Jamaal Lascelles – Missed the last game with a hamstring injury but could be back to face Chelsea.
Federico Fernandez – Could be back for the first time since the Sheffield United defeat after he too returned to training.
(4-3-1-2): Darlow – Krafth, Lascelles, Clark, Lewis – Willock, Hayden, Shelvey – Almiron – Joelinton, Saint-Maximin.
- Krafth in for Manquillo – With the Spaniard ruled out for a few months and the Swede putting in a solid shift after coming on against Southampton, this is a pretty straightforward swap for Steve Bruce.
- Clark in for Schar – A change that looks nailed on, with the Irishman only missing the Saints win due to his wife giving birth. A timely return now Schar is crocked.
- Lascelles in for Hendrick – The skipper’s return means Hayden could move back into that defensive midfield role, seeing him take Hendrick’s place following his stupid red card against the Saints.
- Joelinton in for Wilson – Not an inspiring change, but one that seems most likely given Gayle hasn’t started all season. The Brazilian will be in Bruce’s good books after putting in a shift to help us get over the line last weekend, not to mention the fact he *might* benefit from a more fluid formation that shouldn’t leave him nearly as isolated.
Personally, I’d go with Dubravka over Darlow and play Fraser and ASM up top with Almiron drifting between a No 10 and false No 9, however I can see Bruce sticking with Darlow (for now) and giving Joelinton perhaps one last chance to prove himself, with Gayle coming on from the bench to build his match fitness.
Chelsea are looking well organised in their first few weeks under the new manager, but they were very ordinary in a fortunate midweek cup win over Barnsley, with their only shot on target being a late winner!
I think we can cause them problems and give them a scare if we don’t let Wilson’s absence impact our confidence on the ball, ability to press and commit bodies forward. The question is, will the man replacing our reliable No 13 be able to step up?
I back us to score and make a game of it, but fear for Krafth at the other end and reckon they’ll outscore us in the end.
More important fixtures are on the horizon so avoiding any further casualties would be nice.
Prediction: Chelsea 3-1 Newcastle