It’s been a bizarre and pretty brutal season, but there’s two bits of good news heading into our final home game of 2020/21 – fans are back and we’re not going down.
The latter is hardly anything to celebrate, but it’s nice returning supporters can enjoy a rare day out at St James’ Park without checking Fulham’s score every five minutes and biting their nails throughout.
Our penultimate game sees us face an already relegated Sheffield United. They’re rooted to the bottom, yet did secure a shock win at Everton on Sunday night.
Make no mistake though, this is the perfect chance for us to finally give fans something to shout about and put right that truly abysmal display that saw us hand Sheffield United their first win of the season in that January horror show at Bramall Lane.
One subplot heading into this one is the reception Steve Bruce will receive from the 10,000 crowd. He insisted in his Tuesday morning press conference that he’s not anxious or expecting any hostilities, so it’ll be interesting to hear what the atmosphere is like.
Now we’re safe and coming in on the back of a few impressive results and much improved display, I can see those who’ve picked up a ticket getting behind the team – not booing the man most want out. And why not. I join many in believing Bruce needs to go, but I won’t begrudge anyone wanting to just enjoy a rare night out at St James’ Park!
I’m sure a few will make their point known and rightly so, but reckon 99% of the 10,000 in attendance will be more focused on watching a game of live football after over a year away.
Hopefully it’s a Sunny day at St James’ raining goals, pre-match pints at The Strawberry, Saint-Maximin magic and a whole lot of love for star loanee Joe Willock.
- Callum Wilson – Ruled out for the season with a hamstring injury.
- Fabian Schar – Suspended after his red card in the 2-0 defeat to Arsenal. Will be back for Fulham this weekend.
- Isaac Hayden – Back in light training after a serious knee injury but won’t be risked, according to Bruce.
- Ryan Fraser – Like Hayden, he’s back running but yet to train properly after groin surgery. Won’t play again this season.
- Elliot Anderson – Trained on Monday after a week out with a hip injury. Is ‘desperate’ to play but is set for a late fitness test.
- Karl Darlow – Still recovering from an operation on his knee and unlikely to feature in our final two games.
- Jamaal Lascelles – Was only going to be rushed back from a stress fracture if he was needed, so will continue his recovery from the sidelines now we’re sage.
- Andy Carroll – Used sparingly since the turn of the year, but will be urging Bruce to give him one last run out at St James’ Park before he’s released this summer.
(5-3-2): Dubravka – Murphy, Krafth, Fernandez, Dummett, Ritchie – Willock, Shelvey (c), Almiron – Saint-Maximin, Joelinton.
It’s more than likely that Bruce sticks with the same side that ran Man City close last Friday, hence us predicting an unchanged side, however he does have a few intriguing selection dilemmas to consider.
Does Krafth keep his place or will Clark return? Will Lewis be given a rare start and chance to rebuild his confidence levels against a very beatable Blades side? Does U23 star Elliot Anderson finally get his long-awaited Premier League debut and will we see at St James’ Park send off for Andy Carroll?
There’s also the two Longstaff’s. It’d be nice if Bruce gave Shelvey a ‘rest’ and handed Matty a rare start – a local lad like Anderson who deserves more game time than he’s getting – however it seems the stand-in skipper is undroppable these days.
Out of all the above, I’d like to think Bruce will mix it up slightly, as this seems like the ideal chance to blood in our best youngsters, give Carroll more than 2 minutes of action and hand the likes of Lewis a welcome boost ahead of next season.
It’s not often we’ve been able to say this under Steve Bruce, but this feels like a game we could really enjoy and win convincingly (famous last words!).
We just don’t do clean sheets at St James’ Park this season and the visitors will be on a mini high after that shock win at Goodison over the weekend – so I can see them scoring – however I back Joelinton to bag another goa and ASM to cause havoc in a game full of goals.
Prediction: Newcastle 3-1 Sheffield United