After several months away, never-ending takeover talk and a painful wait for summer signings, Premier League football is finally back at St James’ Park this weekend!
Although any arbitration hearing has been delayed until ‘early 2022’, one of our wishes has come true this week, with Joe Willock completing a permanent move to Newcastle United.
He’s not been registered in time to play this Sunday, but his return does give the players, the club and the entire city a much needed boost ahead of our meeting with West Ham.
We beat The Hammers 3-2 in a five-goal thriller back in April and did a job on them at the London Stadium on the first day of the 2020/21 season, so we’ll have to hope that trend continues here!
Callum Wilson loves to score against the visitors – he’s scored eight times in 10 appearances against West Ham. We’ll also have to hope Allan Saint-Maximin is boosted by the return of fans and able to start after a period of illness over pre-season, with the Frenchman our game-changer who could tear The Irons to shreds if he’s ‘at it.’
David Moyes’ danger man could be the in-form Said Benrahma – the former Brentford star fresh from an outstanding pre-season – while Michail Antonio, ex-Toon target Jarrod Bowen, marauding right-back Vladimir Coufal and Czech giant Tomas Soucek are others ones to watch.
They finished 6th last time out and were in the Champions League picture at one point, however they haven’t added any outfield signings so far this summer ahead of a season competing in the Europa League.
A tough opening test, yet a game we could easily win if we arrive with the right attitude, get at them as we did in April and whip up a positive atmosphere inside St James’ Park!
- Paul Dummett – Picked up a calf injury at the end of July and is the only outfield player set to miss out.
- Martin Dubravka – Still recovering from an operation on his foot following Euro 2020.
- Karl Darlow – Not ready to return after being hit badly by Covid last month, meaning Woodman will start.
- Elliot Anderson – Unavailable after failing to overcome a niggling hip injury all summer.
For the visitors, first choice centre-back Angelo Ogbonna looks set to miss out after picking up an injury in a recent pre-season friendly at Celtic.
(5-3-2): Woodman – Murphy, Fernandez, Lascelles, Clark, Ritchie – Shelvey (c), Hayden, Almiron – Saint-Maximin, Wilson.
Joe Willock is ineligible after being registered after Friday’s 12pm deadline, but we will see a Premier League debut for Freddie Woodman, who’s set for his big opportunity while Dubravka and Darlow remain out.
With Dummett not fit, Clark seems nailed on at the left-side of our three-man defence, with Fernandez and Lascelles also nailed on after Schar returned late following his appearance at Euro 2020 with Switzerland.
Hendrick and Sean Longstaff have got plenty of minutes over pre-season, but with Hayden fit again and our only real tackler, Shelvey starring in our 3-0 win over Norwich last weekend and Almiron being fit as a fiddle – despite only playing in one of our summer friendlies – I can see those three making up our midfield trio. It would be harsh on Ryan Fraser, but he’s still learning that ‘no.8’ role the Paraguayan took up towards the back end of last season.
Up top, it’s hard to see past ASM and Wilson. Gayle bagged two at SJP last weekend and Joelinton played well against The Hammers in our 3-2 win back in April, however Bruce seems likely to go with our two main men if both are fit enough to start.
I can see this one having a few goals in it.
Wilson and Saint-Maximin could cause any defence problems on their day, we will be backed by a home crowd excited to be back and attacking a Hammers defence without their best-centre-back.
At the other end, however, we could struggle to handle Antonio, Benrahma and Bowen, with the three possessing a real blend of power, flair and clever movement. They also have one of the best midfield duos outside the ‘big six’ in Rice and Soucek, meaning the likes of Isaac Hayden will need to be on his game at the heart of our engine room.
I’m going for high-scoring draw!
Prediction: Newcastle 2-2 West Ham