After three straight defeats in all competitions, featuring a cup final defeat and two ‘big six’ rivals leapfrogging us in the league, it feels like our season has reached a crossroads.
Personally, I’m not too worried. I accept we’ve looked a little flat since the turn of the year – one win in our last eight Premier League games and just three goals in that spell is frustrating, along with this growing habit of missing big chances.
However, I’d be far more concerned if we weren’t creating a thing. We looked the better side with 10 men against Liverpool, created three huge opportunities against Man City and limited Nick Pope to just one save at the Etihad.
Callum Wilson doesn’t look himself and a tiring Miguel Almiron looks short on ideas, but we have £120m of talent ready to step up in Alexander Isak, Anthony Gordon and Allan Saint-Maximin. The question is, will Howe stay loyal to his first-team regulars or freshen things up against a much-improve Wolves?
Six of our last eight Premier League meetings have ended in a 1-1 draw; a result few Mags would thank you for. It’s our first home game since our trip to Wembley and a big chance to get back to winning ways. Our Champions League hopes may seem like a long shot, but it’s worth remembering we’ll be back in fourth should we win our games in hand on Spurs and Liverpool. Even if top four seems unlikely, three points would be massive in a week where European contenders Brighton play twice.
Speaking ahead of the game, Howe delivered this determined message in Friday’s press conference:
“Through every season there are difficult moments and there are patches where you don’t win the games maybe you should. That’s the time, I believe, you have to be really strong mentally and know it will change.”
“They [Wolves and Forest] are two big games because of where they’re situated with the international break.
“We want to go into that break in a really good moment. We’re determined to end this run of games in a confident way.”
Fabian Schar is back from concussion and Bruno Guimaraes (ankle) has been passed fit, but Joelinton begins a two-game ban after picking up his 10th yellow of the season last weekend.
Ryan Fraser won’t feature after being told to train with our U21s, while Emil Krafth (ACL) and Harrison Ashby (hamstring) will also be absent.
For the visitors, left-back Hugo Bueno (hamstring) is out alongside Diego Costa, Hwang Hee-chan and Boubacar Traore
Predicted line ups
(4-3-3): Pope – Trippier, Schar, Botman, Burn – Longstaff, Bruno, Willock – Almiron, Isak, Saint-Maximin.
Howe has three of four big decisions to make this weekend. Who starts in attack after more missed chances against Man City and does he change it at left-back now Matt Targett is fit again?
Starting at the back, I think Dan Burn will keep his place over Matt Targett for now. It could restrict us going forward, but Howe may be reluctant to tweak what’s been a very solid defence or throw Targett straight back in for such a huge game after several months without a Premier League start. I do think Fabian Schar will return to the side at Jamaal Lascelles’ expense. A tough one for the skipper – who was very rock solid at Man City – but Schar’s ability on the ball can really help us get on the front foot, especially at home.
It’s an easy switch in midfield, as Joe Willock will almost certainly replace the suspended Joelinton. Big Joe’s physicality will be missed against a tough Wolves engine room, but Willock’s ability to carry the ball at speed and arrive into the box could hurt them.
Out wide, I’d expect Allan Saint-Maximin to return. He often comes alive at St James’ Park and scored a stunning equaliser to salvage a draw at Molineux earlier in the season. Personally, I would like to see Miguel Almiron rested and Anthony Gordon keep his place, but Howe may be reluctant to make too many changes – not to mention the latter wasn’t spotted in training photos earlier this week.
Up top, will Howe stay loyal to Callum Wilson or give Alexander Isak a chance from the off? He admitted the latter isn’t ready to play 90 minutes on a consistent basis just yet, suggesting he’s still building up match fitness. However, Isak has looked sharper than Wilson for several weeks now and has to start, for me.
Wolves have improved under Julen Lopetegui, doing us a big favour last weekend with a 1-0 win over Spurs; although that will only give them extra belief ahead of their trip to Tyneside.
They’ve tightened up defensively and may look to frustrate us with that low block we’ve often struggled to break down at SJP, but I’m backing us to get back to winning ways.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-0 Wolves