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Match Preview: Newcastle United Hosts West Ham United

Alan Pardew insists he's not bitter about being sacked at West Ham, (Simon Bird, MirrorFootball) but he will no doubt have revenge on his mind when the Hammers visit St James' Park on Wednesday. The match marks the end of an 11-day stretch in which the club will have played 4 games. The Toon is 1-2 in that stretch so far and a total of 2-2 under Pardew's leadership.

The Toon Army has the right to expect three points from this match, despite West Ham's recent stretch of okay form. West Ham has been toiling in the relegation zone all season, and you can be sure that they will be doing all they can to stretch toward that little bit of light they can glimpse under all that rubble. Avram Grant is managing for his job and the team as a whole is trying to prevent management from going into fire sale mode while the transfer window is open. Still, the Hammers will be fighting against history. Before their win at Craven Cottage 11 days ago, West Ham hadn't recorded a victory in their 27 previous away matches. That is not a misprint. They also haven't won back-t0-back away games since December 2007, and haven't won at St James' Park since 1998. This season, they've scored 8 goals in 10 away matches...and 3 of those were in the aforementioned Fulham match. More after the jump...

That doesn't mean a guaranteed victory, however. Newcastle fans are well aware of what happens when the team refuses to give their opponents the proper respect, and the team must be sure not to have a letdown in focus ahead of an extended break. They will have to do it without Andy Carroll, who has been the offensive attack for Newcastle in the first half of the season. They proved on Sunday that they can create plenty of chances against a porous defense (and West Ham certainly has one of those), but will the finishing be there?

Pardew will have a couple of selection decisions to make. He has 4 strikers to choose from, if his protest that Leon Best's brief appearance against Wigan was not an audition is true. I would go with Shola Ameobi and Nile Ranger up front, but I do not believe that they have played together in league play this season, so I would expect to see Ameobi and Peter Lovenkrands once again. I also anticipate Steve Harper getting the nod at keeper following a clean sheet and a nifty long ball that led to a goal on Sunday. Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor seem to have emerged as the preferred pairing in the center of the backfield, but word is that grumpy Sol Campbell will be fit once again. Also, will Mike Williamson and his new contract continue to sit on the bench? My predicted lineup is the same as last week: Harper, Simpson, S. Taylor, Coloccini, Jose Enrique, Barton, Nolan, Tiote, Jonas, Ameobi, Lovenkrands.

Keys to Victory
1) Finishing
Shots off the crossbar and headers off the upper 90 are only amusing following a victory. You can only afford to miss so many chances in the Premiership, even if the opponent is a candidate for relegation.
2) Contain Carlton Cole
He's scored twice in his last two matches against Newcastle and scored twice against Fulham. That's obviously a small sample size and not predictive of anything, but never underestimate what confidence can do for a striker.
3) Score First
RKW isn't here to harp on it, so I'll do it for him. The Magpies are 6-1-1 when they score first.

Prediction: 2-0 Newcastle