Following back-to-back wins for the first time this season and a strong finish to Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over Everton, it’s fair to say we finally have some genuine momentum under Eddie Howe.
We also come into this one knowing there’s no reason why we can’t beat an Aston Villa side that often looked wide open in Wednesday’s 3-3 draw with Leeds.
They’ve been superb since Steven Gerrard came in, however they’re also a club who haven’t had the best of records at St James’ Park over the years.
One thing is certain, mind. They’ll pose a much bigger threat than Everton did earlier this week. The Toffees may have beaten Leeds 3-0 at Goodison Park today, but they were toothless on Wednesday – something Villa have never been since Gerrard took over.
Elsewhere, Brighton did us a huge favour on Saturday afternoon, beating Watford 2-0 at Vicarage Road to keep the Hornets three points behind us having played one game more, while Norwich were hammered 4-0 at the hands of Man City.
Brentford also went yet another game without a win, drawing 0-0 with Crystal Palace. That leaves them six clear of ourselves, yet they’ve played three games more.
So, with several results going our way and Burnley hosting Liverpool tomorrow, this feels like another big chance to give us some breathing space at the bottom.
Kieran Trippier is facing a late fitness test after limping off with a calf injury on Tuesday, while Matt Targett is ineligible against his parent club.
Elsewhere, Paul Dummett, Matt Ritchie, Federico Fernandez and Callum Wilson have been ruled out once again.
As for Villa, Coutinho is expected to start after shaking off a knock, but Emi Buendia is a major doubt because of a bruised hip, Bertrand Traore has a hamstring injury and Ezri Konsa begins a two-match ban after a red card on Wednesday, meaning Calum Chambers could come in for his debut at CB.
Predicted line ups
(4-3-3): Dubravka – Manquillo, Lascelles, Schar, Burn – Willock, Shelvey, Joelinton – Fraser, Wood, Saint-Maximin.
Martin Dubravka – Another solid display in midweek and set to keep his place, with Howe denying claims that he was offered to Man Utd in a deadline day deal involving Dean Henderson.
Javier Manquillo – Trippier has a calf injury and wasn’t spotted in training on Friday. I really hope he can pass a late fitness test, but see the reliable Manquillo having to come in instead.
Jamaal Lascelles – Made up for the own goal with that equaliser against Everton and put in a very steady display. Let’s hope he can maintain that level in this one.
Fabian Schar – Looked to be carrying a knock early on in Tuesday’s game, but came through OK in the end and built on that superb performance at Leeds.
Dan Burn – With Targett ineligible against his parent club, Dummett not fit and Lewis left out of the 25-man squad, I’m expecting the Geordie giant to make his debut here. If Trippier is fit, however, we may see Manquillo at LB.
Joe Willock – Grew into the game in midweek and was superb in that second half, carrying the ball well and pressing from first minute to last. Howe may be tempted by Guimaraes, but I’m not sure he’ll change a winning side or leave out a player finally getting his confidence back!
Jonjo Shelvey – One of the first names on the teamsheet under the new boss, it seems. Has put in disciplined displays in each of our last two and will need to do the same here against an energetic Villa side full of industry and ideas in midfield.
Joelinton – Wasn’t spectacular against Everton, but still gives us that presence and non-stop running that we’ve often lacked in the middle of the park. Needs to improve in the final third, however his main role could be to disrupt the likes of Coutinho or Ramsey at the other end!
Ryan Fraser – Got the goal he deserved on Tuesday and is becoming a key player under Howe, with his energy and pressing second to none. Hopefully he can build on this now.
Chris Wood – Needs a goal and hasn’t posed enough of a threat so far, but Howe has talked up his physical presence and the dirty work he’s doing to allow others around him to shine.
Allan Saint-Maximin – As he proved a few days ago, he is the difference maker in this side. Matty Cash will be a tough opponent for him on Sunday, however he has the beating of most defenders in world football if he’s at his brilliant best!
Predicted Aston Villa XI (4-4-1-1): Martinez – Cash, Chambers, Mings, Digne – McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Ramsey – Watkins, Ings, Coutinho.
I can see there being a few goals in this one, with us growing in confidence after back-to-back wins and Aston Villa looking very open in that 3-3 draw with Leeds in midweek.
If Trippier misses out I think he’ll be a huge miss and I also think we’ll find it much harder to win the midfield battle against the likes of McGinn, Ramsey and Douglas Luiz, however I’m hopeful we’ll have enough to cause them problems.
Wood to get off the mark and Coutinho to cause havoc in a high-scoring draw!
Prediction: Newcastle 2-2 Aston Villa
HOWAY THE LADS!