When there’s still 25 games remaining and 75 points left to play for, it may seem odd calling the upcoming match a ‘must-win’.
In truth, this really does feel like one. We have to beat Norwich if we’re going to stay up this season.
OK, we could draw this, beat Burnley on Saturday and still stay up. However, with the fixtures that look set to follow over the festive period, it’s so important we win this one to not only close the gap but boost some pretty low confidence levels within the squad.
The good news is it’s going to be a brilliant atmosphere under the lights and our first opportunity to give Eddie Howe a big Geordie welcome at St James’ Park – two factors that could help the new manager bounce we’ve all been waiting for on Tyneside.
On the flip side, Saturday’s display at Arsenal was far too passive and full of more defensive mistakes, meanwhile Norwich followed back-to-back wins with a solid point against Wolves.
They no longer come into this looking like the Premier League’s whipping boys, looking a much more competitive side since Dean Smith has taken over.
Saying that, if we can up our intensity, be braver on the ball and put in the sort of attacking display that saw us put three past the a solid Brentford side, I have faith this will be our first win of the season and potential turning point.
Both Jamaal Lascelles and Matt Ritchie are suspended, having picked up their fifth yellow cards of the season in Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Arsenal.
Dwight Gayle could return from a hamstring complaint, but Paul Dummett and Elliot Anderson look set to miss out through injury.
As for the visitors, summer signing and star midfielder Mathias Normann has been ruled out with a pelvic injury, while one-time Toon target Ozan Kabak could also miss out again.
Predicted line ups
(3-4-2-1): Dubravka – Krafth, Fernandez, Schar – Murphy, Shelvey, Hayden, Fraser – Joelinton, Saint-Maximin – Wilson.
(4-3-3): Krul – Aarons, Hanley, Gibson, Williams – McLean, Rupp, Gilmour – Sargent, Pukki, Rashica.
He may have been left out of our last FIVE matchday squads, but I’m backing Federico Fernandez to return for this one.
Howe and Tindall have talked up his professionalism, so there’s clearly been no rift, and he’s best suited to playing in the middle of a three-man defence – making him the ideal replacement for the suspended Jamaal Lascelles.
I’m not a fan of Krafth – who switched off for Saka’s goal at Arsenal – but he may keep him in the side and stick with Schar on the left-hand side of the back three to avoid making too many changes in that area.
I say a ‘back three’ because I see it being exactly that here. I can see Murphy coming in at wing-back and Fraser starting down the other side to give us two advanced options down the flanks.
Jamal Lewis is being tipped to start against his former club down the left, however he’s played six minutes of football all season. Not only that, it seemed telling to me that Fraser moved to LWB towards the end of Saturday’s game, making him the most likely Ritchie replacement in my eyes.
Saying that, Lewis will surely start if Howe opts for a four-man defence – unless Manquillo makes a rare appearance at left-back with Krafth on the right.
Sticking with my predicted XI, I think we could see Isaac Hayden replace Joe Willock. The latter’s eagerness to get forward sometimes leaves big gaps between midfield and defence, so Hayden could slot in here to give our defence that bit of cover while others bomb forward.
In attack, I want to see Almiron return but equally struggle to see where he fits, meaning Joelinton and Saint-Maximin should start either side of Callum Wilson – who is one booking away from being a ban himself.
Saturday was a reality check for Howe and sobering moment for anyone expecting some huge new manager bounce, yet I do come into this with real hope.
It’s Howe’s first proper game at St James’ Park, it’s under the lights and it’s against a Norwich side who we can definitely beat if we play like we did in our last home game.
My one big worry is how the players will cope knowing it really is a must-win game and the biggest opportunity we’ll get to end this awful run of form.
The pressure is on and Norwich arrive in much better form, however I think we’ll learn from last weekend’s passive display, push higher up the pitch and see Wilson score a couple in a much needed win.
Prediction: Newcastle 3-1 Norwich
HOWAY THE LADS!