Another quiet week on Tyneside.
A 1-1 draw with Wolves was tough to take, but what really stung was the missed chances, avoidable nature of their equaliser and costly injuries to Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron.
Not only will both be on the sidelines this Sunday along with Callum Wilson, we’ve had a turbulent week off the pitch after Steve Bruce recklessly decided to throw half the team under the bus after last weekend’s slip up at St James’ Park.
A ‘bust-up’ with Matt Ritchie has been widely reported, the players are believed to be baffled by the lack of training (they’ve been handed days off across three of the past five days!) and Steve Bruce is furious with a certain North-East journalist for writing stories on all of the above.
So, brilliant preparation for without doubt our biggest and most must-win game of the season away to a second bottom West Brom on Sunday…
Come away with the victory and we’ll be SIX points clear of Fulham after 27 games. Lose and West Brom will suddenly be as many points behind us, not to mention the fact Fulham would dump us in the relegation zone should they become the sixth straight side to beat an out of sorts Liverpool side at Anfield.
Given the injury issues and off field drama that’s left us in an almighty mess this week, a win feels unlikely – but pull one out of the bag and our relegation fears could be eased considerably.
- Miguel Almiron – Ruled out with a knee injury. Bruce claims he could be back after the international break.
- Allan Saint-Maximin – Ruled out with a groin injury. Won’t play again this month by the looks.
- Callum Wilson – Back jogging but still “a little way off” returning according to Bruce.
- Isaac Hayden – Has an ankle injury but Bruce reckons he’ll be fine for Sunday; providing he comes through our last training session.
- Emil Krafth – Rated ’50-50′ for this one by the manager after picking up a shin injury.
- Federico Fernandez – Has “trained all week” (once again) and “might” feature in this one. Hasn’t played since 1-0 loss at Sheffield United.
- Javier Manquillo – Spotted in light training this week – not that Bruce gave any update on his return in his presser. With Krafth a doubt we could do with him back, however it seems likely this one will come too soon for the Spaniard.
- Fabian Schar – Remains out with a knee injury as he recovers from surgery. .
(4-3-3): Dubravka – Krafth, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett – Willock, Hayden, Shelvey – Joelinton, Gayle, Fraser.
Dummett in, Lewis out – With the latter criticised for allowing a cross to get in that led to Wolves’ equaliser last weekend, I would not be at all surprised if Bruce opted for Dummett. He’s been fit again for several weeks now and put in a heroic cameo to help us get over the line against Southampton.
Fraser in, Saint-Maximin out – The Scot must now been given a regular run in the side, being one of few players at the club capable of offering the quality needed in Wilson, ASM and Almiron’s absence. I can see him starting down the left and tasked to be our creative force.
Gayle in, Almiron out – Based on our lack of No 10’s capable of slotting into that Almiron role, I can see us pushing Gayle up and playing more of a 4-3-3 in the Paraguayan’s absence. He’s barely featured of late, but Gayle knows where the back of the net is at The Hawthorns. This tweak could also see Willock play just ahead of Hayden and Shelvey, giving us a player to support the striker, feed the front three and make runs into the box.
A few ones to watch in Sam Allardyce’s Baggies side:
Mbaye Diagne – The Senegalese international has given them real presence up top and would’ve scored quite a few since his January arrival from Galatasaray if it wasn’t for the offside flag! A real handful that Lascelles and Co. must take care of.
Matheus Pereira – Their best player and the man we need to keep quiet for me. He’s the one player in that side with the quality to create a goal or score a stunner of his own. The Brazilian has been hit and miss this season and was said to have had an off night in midweek against Everton, but he’ll be the man they turn to for inspiration here.
Conor Gallagher – A player I was actually keen to see us sign on loan from Chelsea last summer. He’s not found it easy to shine in such a poor West Brom side, however he’s an extremely hard worker, tenacious and has an eye for goal.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles – Was a target of Steve Bruce’s before we landed Joe Willock, so it’ll be interesting to see who wins the battle of the Arsenal loanees in the middle of the park!
There’s a hope in me that we might still have too much for them if we find a way to stick with the same formation, press and pass the ball with confidence. After all, the likes of Fraser, Willock and Murphy should be able to hurt a Baggies side who’ve conceded a stupid number of goals at The Hawthorns this season.
The other side of me feels this is a nailed on win for Sam Allardyce given his history in these situations, our injury issues and off field issues.
With all that in mind, it’ll probably be a draw – a result that wouldn’t be enough for either club!
Prediction: West Brom 1-1 Newcastle