High-flying Newcastle United head to Ewood Park Wednesday to take on current bottom of the table Blackburn Rovers and their wildly unpopular manager Steve Kean. On the surface, the stakes are relatively minor- a position in the Quarter-Final draw for the Carling Cup. For the Magpies and owner Mike Ashley, the actual stakes go much deeper. Newcastle United last lifted a major domestic trophy in 1955, and coach Alan Pardew has publicly stated his desire to end that run--doubtlessly at the behest of Ashley who is, thanks to Newcastle's flying start, the target of less abuse than he has been since taking control of the club. If they can deliver a cup, the thought must be that their sins will be washed away in the eyes a majority of the Toon Army.
With a recently shortened squad through injury and loan combined with the onus on performing in the Cup, the question of what Alan Pardew will do with the lineup is hard to anticipate. In the 3rd Round match against Nottingham Forest, he favored a 3-5-2 (Elliott | Perch, Coloccini, Simpson | Ben Arfa, Abeid, Guthrie, Marveaux, Gosling | Lovenkrands, Ferguson) which may be what we end up fielding again with little change.
Blackburn have been in better form in the Carling Cup (clearly), but the desire to stem the run of poor league performances and thus field as strong a side as possible is not as simple a proposition as you might think. Steve Nzonzi, who was by far Blackburn's top man in the league fixture a month ago, is suspended. Midfielders David Dunn and Vince Grella are out through injury, as well as long-term absentee Ryan Nelsen and first choice defenders Scott Dann and Michel Salgado. Even though the match is a home match for Rovers, the number of key players that will be unavailable for under fire Steve Kean are going to make victory a tall order. Or will it be?
Newcastle have been taken to extra time twice by lower division Scunthorpe and Nottingham Forest, so there is cause for concern if Pardew decides to stay the course with his preferred cup lineup to this point. He has yet to succumb to any tinkering desire with the League lineup, so it seems as likely as not that the 3-5-2 will live on for at least another match, but I would imagine that he will name a very strong bench to fall back on in the event that we don't get the traction that we would like in the first half. The desire for silverware is strong with this staff, but I think that with league fixtures v. Stoke and Everton, we're still in the maximize the great start of the season mode so far as player management. If we fall behind however, the changes are likely to come fast and early. Also of note:
- Somewhat surprisingly, Blackburn hold form in the head-to-head matchup with Newcastle lately, having lost only once (3-1 courtesy of Mr. Demba Ba) in the last 8 meetings between the two clubs
- Newcastle are on a run away from home in the Carling Cup, having won their last four (even if the last two were only just...)
Newcastle United FC
Out: Mike Williamson (ankle/arm), Shola Ameobi (hamstring)
Doubtful: Cheik Tiote (knee)
Projected XI: Elliott | Santon, Coloccini, R. Taylor | Ben Arfa, Abeid, Smith, Marveaux, Gosling | Lovenkrands, Vuckic
Projected Subs: Krul, Guthrie, Cabaye, Jonas, Sa. Ameobi, S. Taylor, Ba
Out: David Dunn (calf), Ryan Nelsen (knee), Vince Grella (hip), Scott Dann (calf), Michel Salgado (hamstring)
Projected XI: Robinson | Olsson, Samba, Givet, Lowe | Hoilett, Pedersen, Formica, Vuckcevic | Rochina, Goodwillie
Projected Subs: Bunn, Dann, Hanley, Blackman, Petrovic, Yakubu, Roberts
Blackburn Rovers 1 - 2 Newcastle United
We nick it, but only just. We've got a good track record on the road in the cup and have won 2 straight aet, and this match may count for both again. If we don't go to extra time, I wouldn't be surprised if we only avoid it narrowly. 4,000 Geordies are on their way to Ewood Park to cheer on the lads-- here's hoping it's not a long trip home. HTL!