This one feels massive. Not just because Burnley are now just two points behind us (with a game in hand) after their win over Spurs in midweek, but because we can leapfrog a Brentford side in freefall with a victory!
The Bees have won just one of their last 10 league games and have lost seven of their last eight in all competitions, picking up a point along the way – courtesy of an awful 0-0 draw with Palace earlier this month.
On the flip side, we are on a six-game unbeaten – the last time we lost was when Man City came to Tyneside in mid December – and followed three wins on the trot with a hugely impressive performance at West Ham last weekend, where we drew 1-1.
Sounds great, doesn’t it! Especially when we’d be ahead of Brentford AND have two games in hand with a win. However, not only is Saint-Maximin likely to be on the bench, at best, ahead of a late fitness test and Manquillo missing again (he’s trained but still isn’t ‘100%’, says Howe), Thomas Frank revealed a huge double boost for the hosts on Friday afternoon.
Ivan Toney is fit and ready to return after three games out, while Christian Eriksen will make his debut – probably from the bench, but it’ll still give them a lift going into a such a massive game.
Elsewhere, our relegation rivals have tough fixtures, making this an even bigger chance (in theory) for Newcastle to pull clear. Norwich remain bottom after being beaten comfortably by the in-form Southampton on Friday night and, fresh from conceding 10 goals in their last two league games, Leeds face Spurs in Saturday’s early kick off.
Watford travel to Man Utd, Burnley take on a Palace side who just put four past the Hornets (before playing their game in hand against Leicester next week) and Everton welcome Man City to Goodison for Saturday night’s game on Sky Sports.
With Brentford receiving a pre-match boost but being woefully out of form, this is still a big chance to potentially sink a relegation rival that have gone under the radar for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks.
Having Saint-Maximin would be a huge help – he’s our difference maker and caused havoc in the reverse fixture – but we proved last weekend that we are now a capable, confident and competent side; even without big hitters like ASM, Trippier and Wilson.
Eddie Howe has confirmed he’ll make a ‘late call’ on Allan Saint-Maximin after he’s been in France for treatment on his calf, while Javier Manquillo is tough and go after returning to training.
Kieran Trippier (foot), Callum Wilson (calf) and Matt Ritchie (knee) remain out, however it looks like the hosts will have Ivan Toney back, with Christian Eriksen set to make his debut; probably from the bench.
Predicted line ups
(4-3-3): Dubravka – Krafth, Schar, Burn, Targett – Willock, Shelvey, Joelinton – Fraser, Wood, Murphy.
Martin Dubravka – Didn’t have much to do at the London Stadium – which shows how much we’ve improved defensively – but did make a good save to deny Bowen early on. Will need to be strong against a Brentford side who love to throw high balls into the box.
Emil Krafth – With Manquillo likely to be fit enough for the bench at best, the Swede should start again. Gave away a silly free kick for West Ham’s goal, but has done a decent job when called upon by Howe.
Fabian Schar – Has added consistency and composure to his game under Howe. Hopefully that continues here and he resists being dragged into too much of a fight with the physical Ivan Toney.
Dan Burn – A class act once again last weekend, but also showed his no nonsense side that will be needed in this battle at Brentford.
Matt Targett – Has barely put a foot wrong in his first two games for the club. Put plenty balls into the box last time out and linked up nicely with Murphy at times.
Joe Willock – Arrives on the back of his best display of the season and that well deserved goal he’s been waiting for. Hope to see him make more driving runs and carry the goal threat we know he can offer. Guimaraes will have to wait another week for his first start, you’d think!
Jonjo Shelvey – Another disciplined display needed against a tough Brentford midfield. However, if we win that battle, we’ll have to hope he finds his passing range to release the likes of Fraser and Murphy.
Joelinton – Back to his brilliant best as this big bulldozing midfielder last weekend. The only thing missing is that sprinkle of quality in the final third he often lacks. Could actually be key in stopping Toney, who often drops deep to link up the play.
Ryan Fraser – Passed fit after limping off at West Ham and it’s just as well. His energy, drive, movement and balls into the box have been key in recent weeks.
Jacob Murphy – Had a mixed afternoon last Saturday. Carried a threat in the first half and linked up nicely with Targett at times, but offered very little in the second and seemed to tire. He has the pace to beat a man and quick feet too, however he needs to step up if ASM is out once again.
Chris Wood – Does the dirty work well and wins so many headers, but we need to see more from the big man. Needs a goal badly – especially when his replacement at Burnley (Wout Weghorst) is looking like a much better piece of business at present!
Predicted Brentford XI (3-5-2): Raya – Ajer, Jansson, Pinnock – Canos, Dasilva, Norgaard, Jensen, Henry – Mbuemo, Toney.
I don’t think it’ll be pretty, but I’m backing us to get revenge for that 3-3 draw we really should’ve won in Eddie Howe’s first ‘official’ game in charge (which he watched on from a nearby hotel with Covid!).
Whether Saint-Maximin is fit or not, we showed enough last weekend to believe we can be too strong for an under confident Brentford side who’ve been struggling for months.
They may have Toney back and will be boosted by Eriksen’s presence, however it’s a team game and we look a very decent one these days!
Prediction: Brentford 1-2 Newcastle
HOWAY THE LADS!