We're now well under 24 hours left to go before Newcastle United host Sunderland at St James' Park, which means my nerves are shot and the only chance I have of getting my thoughts down on virtual paper is putting them in bullet form. How do you see going?
- I usually get nervous for this one the day before it happens. That held true again. As I watched other teams play today, the adrenaline started flowing freely. It didn't help that Chris Hughton's Norwich City squad were on the wrong end of several refereeing decisions, losing a 1-0 lead with 10 minutes to play in a match that ended up 1-3. A sobering reminder that it takes a 90 minute commitment to create a result, something Newcastle will remember after Sunderland equalized in the 85th minute at the Stadium of Light in October.
- The mackems should be more nervous than we are. Aston Villa squeezed a draw out of Fulham today, meaning Sunderland needs a win just to keep pace with the team in 16th place.
- If Steven Taylor does not pass his fitness test, who will play at center back? Mike Williamson did well on Thursday against Benfica, but for most of the match they were understandably not that interested in scoring. James Perch didn't play and should be fresh. I'm not sure there's a right or wrong choice, especially since Sunderland don't have an available player that's scored more than 5 goals in this campaign, and Connor Wickham is also a doubt. Demba Ba isn't around to score for them this time, so they'll have to create their own magic.
- I sure hope there aren't any unnecessary demonstrations revolving around Paolo Di Canio's political leanings that embarrass the fanbase.
- Part of me - the part that makes leaps in logic to look for developments for the sake of a compelling narrative - wonders if the Europa League elimination will free Newcastle to play a free-flowing game. They've been tight all season, partly because of tactical decisions made by the manager, but also, I imagine, because they know another fixture is always looming around the corner. They're now six matches away from the end of the season, and will have a week in between each one. Time to hold nothing back.
- We don't know about the status of several injured players, including Steven Taylor, Mathieu Debuchy, Davide Santon, and Cheik Tiote. Wild guesses: Saylor and Debuchy will be available, and Santon and Tiote won't be. My preferred lineup, assuming that: Krul | Debuchy, Saylor, MYM, Haidara | Perch, Cabaye | Marveaux, Sissoko, Gouffran | Cisse
- Di Canio will press hard and keep a high line. Can they keep Yohan Cabaye from finding Papiss Cisse? I'm guessing they won't be able to keep it up for 90 minutes. Prediction: 1-0, Cisse in the 82nd minute.