Newcastle United will welcome the Wolves on Saturday in a rematch of an early-season game which ended in a 1-1 draw despite Newcastle's dominance in possession and shots on goal.
Follow the jump for this week's match preview, including CHN's Three Keys to Victory.
Newcastle United FC
11th place, 36 points, 9-9-12
Projected XI: Harper | Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Ferguson | Barton, Nolan, Ireland, Jonás | Ranger, Ameobi
18th place, 32 points, 9-5-16
Projected XI: Hennessey | Foley, Stearman, Berra, Elokobi | Milijas, Henry | Jarvis, Hammill, O'Hara | Ebanks-Blake
Match Official: Mike Dean
It's sort of cliche in sports to say that this latest game is the most important of the season, but truth be told, if there was ever a must-win for the Toon this season, this is it. Newcastle sit at 11th place, but that's incredibly misleading as they are only 4 points ahead of the team occupying that fateful 18th spot, and it just so happens that this week's opponent is that team. The term "six-pointer" was invented for matches like these. Assuming no draw (and that may be a stretch, since over half of Wolverhampton games end that way), one fanbase will feel good about their team's prospects when they hit the pillow on Saturday night, while the others will be tossing and turning and worrying about the R-word.
In other words, the stakes are high. An irresponsible blogger would suggest that perhaps a dirty team like the Wolves will be out for blood (I've seen countless posts wringing hands about how tiny Shane Ferguson will cope with the Wolves thugs), but we are not irresponsible here at CHN. Contrary to their reputation, the Wolves are not a dirty team; in fact, they sit tied for 7th in the Fair Play Table, while Newcastle languish in 19th place. (ESPN Soccernet) The Toon Army may remember Karl Henry's thuggery in trying to provoke Joey Barton way back in August, but that's not typical of the team. The point is that this game will likely feature some physical play, but no more than normal.
Still, one hopes that the lads in black and white will step up their game in light of recent form. The Magpies have won one of their last nine fixtures, a statistic that should simultaneously shame and motivate the leaders of the team, who have been notably absent. The aforementioned Ferguson was one of the lone bright spots in the loss to Stoke City, which doesn't speak well of Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton, or Steve Harper, to name a few.
Tactically, Newcastle must remain disciplined against a team with discipline as its calling card. I believe I was very clear in saying that the 3-5-2 experiment was a massive mistake. It will remain so if Pardew goes back to it, especially if Jose Enrique is unable to go. Newcastle can wreak havoc if they are effective at widening the pitch, but the players must be comfortable in their positions in order to do so. I do wonder about the ability of this team to score at all, given the state of the striker corps, but as I alluded to above, I expect the team captain to step up and add to his team-leading goal tally.
Defensively, the back line will have to contend with Matt Jarvis, who leads the Premier League in crosses attempted. The Wolves love to score through the air, and though Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini have shown proficiency at defending against headers in the past, they have been deficient in that capacity of late. Fortunately, the biggest threat to score based on recent form is the diminutive Jamie O'Hara, who is generously listed at 5'9". If the defenders can stay on their toes for 90 minutes and Harper can rebound from a poor showing, a clean sheet is not out of the question.
Three Keys to Victory
1) Control the Midfield
Whoever replaces Cheik Tiote, be it Danny Guthrie or Stephen Ireland, is at extreme risk of being outworked by the strong midfield of the Wolves. The midfielders absolutely must be strong in possession.
2) Score Early
The Wolves average a paltry 1.17 goals per game, and that number drops to 0.73 on the road. If Newcastle can somehow break through in the first half and play behind the ball the rest of the way, a victory seems likely.
3) Play Smart
This one is rather generic, but it's important. The Toon has been ravaged by lack of focus in this extended run of poor form, whether the lapses come in the form of excessive offside runs, defensive howlers, or pressing too far up the field when the situation doesn't call for it. The XI must avoid mental mistakes or another embarassment will be in the cards.
Prediction: NUFC 1, Wolves 0