Both David Moyes and Jonjo Shelvey have suggested in the build up to this match that there’s very little between the two squads – yet the two sides sit in complete opposite ends of the table coming into this one.
If West Ham win they’ll move up to 3rd and give their Champions League hopes another huge boost, while a defeat for us could see us pulled right back into the relegation fight.
On the plus side, we beat them on the opening days of the season, could welcome back Wilson and Saint-Maximin AND face a Hammers side set to be missing several key players, but there’s no doubting this will be a tough game against a West Ham side flying high.
In many respects, their season is reminiscent of our rise up to 5th under Alan Pardew in 2011/12. Everything has just clicked, they have a host of talented players in their prime and a January signing in Jesse Lingard who is having a Papiss Cisse style effect on their form, with the Man Utd loanee scoring EIGHT goals in nine Premier League appearances so far.
As for us, we arrive with real momentum after an impressive display and handy point against Spurs was followed by a huge win at Burnley.
In that time we’ve seen Fulham lose twice, meaning we could move NINE clear of our biggest relegation rivals with a win in Saturday’s early kick off at St James’ Park.
- Wilson & Saint-Maximin – Both in contention to start after coming on at Burnley and training all week. Bruce admits he has a ‘decision to make’.
- Ryan Fraser – Set to miss out again with a groin injury that’s yet to improve.
- Jamaal Lascelles – Could miss the rest of the season after suffering a stress fracture in his foot.
- Fabian Schar – Returned to light training this week and is doing ‘very, very well’ says Bruce, however this game will come too soon.
- Isaac Hayden – Ruled out for the season with a knee injury.
For the visitors, Michail Antonio and Declan Rice have been ruled out, with defender Aaron Cresswell also a ‘doubt’ with a hamstring issue. Angelo Ogbonna has returned to training, but Moyes failed to state whether the centre-back would be fit enough to play his first game since February at St James’ Park.
(5-3-2): Dubravka – Murphy, Fernandez, Clark, Dummett, Ritchie – S Longstaff, Shelvey (c), Almiron – Saint-Maximin, Wilson.
Saint-Maximin IN, Gayle OUT? – This one feels like a no-brainer now ASM has had two late cameos and been a game changer in both. Gayle’s movement and energy was effective against Spurs, but he was on the fringe of the things at Turf Moor and missed a big chance.
Wilson IN, Joelinton OUT? – I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce goes with the Brazilian (who was very good in our last home game) and plays it safe with Wilson, however this feels like a huge chance to move NINE points clear of Fulham – and our top scorer could be the difference. He’s trained for two weeks straight now and will only get match fit through starts, so I’m backing Bruce to start him against a side he LOVES to score against.
Joe Willock will be eyeing a recall, but with Shelvey a big favourite of Bruce’s – I still have no idea how he’s our vice captain – and Sean Longstaff coming in from the cold and playing well in our last two, I struggle to see how the Arsenal loanee starts unless Almiron is dropped.
One thing we mustn’t do here is play with our foot off the gas and rest on our laurels after last week’s big win at Burnley – especially when the opposition will be full of motivation in their push towards a surprise top four finish.
Antonio, Rice and Cresswell’s likely absence combined with the return of Wilson and ASM give me real hope, but their impressive win over Leicester last Sunday proved they’re no one-trick pony.
How we’ll play is anyone’s guess – we were brilliant against Spurs then awful at Burnley until changes were made – however I think we’ll have to replicate our most recent display at St James’ Park to get a result.
I fancy a high-scoring draw and point that could be precious if Fulham fail to beat Arsenal on Sunday.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-2 West Ham