Newcastle United will play host to Birmingham City on Saturday in a rematch of a 2-0 win in favor of the Magpies back in February. Both teams are clear of the drop zone with not much to play for except mathematical safety, which the Toon can gain this week with a win. Newcastle will have the usual cast of characters missing due to injury and have added Mike Williamson (broken arm) and Sol Campbell (broken pride) to that list, while Birmingham will miss Craig Gardner due to a suspension as Nikola Zigic tries to gain match fitness. Chris Foy (66 yellow, 1 red in 25 matches) will be the match official.
Follow the jump for this week's match preview, including CHN's Keys to Victory.
Newcastle United FC
12th place, 41 points, 10-11-14
Injured (Out): Hatem Ben Arfa, Dan Gosling, Alan Smith, Leon Best, Mike Williamson, James Perch, Stephen Ireland
Injured (Questionable): Steve Harper
Projected XI: Krul | Simpson, STaylor, Coloccini, Jose Enrique | Barton, Tiote, Nolan, Jonás | Ameobi, Lovenkrands
Birmingham City FC
15th place, 39 points, 8-15-12
Suspended: Craig Gardner
Injured (Out): Scott Dann, James McFadden, Enric Valles, Maik Taylor
Injured (Questionable): Nikola Zigic, Martin Jiranek
Projected XI: Foster | Carr, Johnson, Jiranek, Ridgewell | Larsson, Ferguson, Bowyer, Beausejour | Jerome, Phillips
Match Official: Chris Foy
I'm not feeling well, so I'm going to keep this short: Newcastle should win this game. Period. Birmingham, despite winning the Carling Cup and sitting just a couple of spots below the Magpies, are not a good team. They've scored 35 goals in just as many games, they're 2-7-8 on the road, their big man is likely out, and they couldn't even stop Peter Lovenkrands from scoring last time out.
One could argue that Newcastle is also a bad team, especially recently, and that's not an argument I'm interested in protesting too strongly. Still, we've seen flashes of good football, and though it hasn't shown up consistently, it's there nonetheless. Alan Pardew and the Newcastle players can look at a fixture list like anybody else, and with Chelsea looming next week, they know that they have two more realistic chances to gain points.
But enough about how the game should turn out. What about what we want to see? Here's my wishlist:
- It would be nice if some youngsters such as Shane Ferguson, Phil Airey, and Michael Richardson could get into the game, especially if the result is in hand early. They could use some top flight experience, and who knows? Maybe Airey will prove to be better than Ameobi, Lovenkrands, and Kuqi combined. It's certainly possible.
- A pitch invader. It's been awhile, hasn't it?
- Some support for Jonás Gutiérrez and Jose Enrique Sanchez. Maybe make a supporting run or two, other players.
- The regular home kit. We deserve to see our team play in black and white stripes at least one more time before next year, when they'll be forced to play in pajamas.
- No fouls for Cheik Tiote. He's one away from tying the PL record, and I'd like to see him avoid that ignominy.
- Smart distribution from Tim Krul. Hey, I said it was a wishlist.
- Nobody waving money at opposing players. It was funny the first time, but let's not run that bit into the ground, okay?
Fabricio Coloccini riding a unicorn. Admit it - you've got a mental image, and it's glorious. You're welcome.
Here are your Keys to Victory, because LISTS ARE AWESOME:
1) Contain Sebastien Larsson.
Larsson is the Blues' #1 threat. Happily, he plays on the right side of Birmingham's formation, so there's actually a chance of this happening.
2) Joey Barton must not screw up free kicks.
Barton's lack of quality on set pieces the last several weeks has been absolutely deflating. If he can't get the job done, Pardew must have the courage to replace him.
3) Shola Ameobi and Peter Lovenkrands must find some chemistry between them.
Birmingham's back four is vulnerable, but to take advantage the two strikers must be able to find each other, something that they haven't been able to do of late.
Prediction: NUFC 2, BCFC 0