Newcastle head to the Hawthorns on Sunday afternoon (12:00pm GMT) in a bottom-of-the-table clash that could prove vital come the end of the season. Following the terrible news that former Newcastle player, captain and manager Glenn Roeder lost his battle to a brain tumour, the side will take to the field wearing black armbands in his memory.
After being unable to pick up three points in a dominant performance against Wolves last time out, Newcastle remain 3 points clear of the relegation zone but now have a game in hand following Fulham’s midweek loss to Tottenham. A win over the Baggies on Sunday will lift Newcastle 6 points clear of Fulham, and if Arsenal beat Burnley on Saturday, Newcastle will move above them to relieve some of the relegation worries, at least temporarily.
Against Wolves, Newcastle started the game well, looked the much more dangerous side, and were statistically a much-improved side to that of late. The recent go-to formation of the 4-4-2 diamond which struggled against the width of Chelsea stood firm against Wolves for long periods and Newcastle looked confident with the ball as Shelvey had his best game in quite some time. Saint-Maximin and Almiron looked dangerous in the first half before both succumbing to injuries, but Newcastle took a deserved lead early in the second half when Fraser, brought on for the injured Almiron, crossed into Lascelles who guided a header past Patricio.
Our final substitution was also forced by injury, this time to Krafth, however, it was the immediate aftermath of this change which let Wolves in for the equaliser. A total breakdown of communication meant that Murphy, who should have switched to right-back was unaware and still playing on the left-wing, whilst Hayden tried slotting into a 3 at the back, whilst it was supposed to be a 4, and Wolves spare man at the back drifted in and headed past a flailing Dubravka.
It was a disaster. Only made more shambolic after the Sky Sports analysis breaking down exactly the cascade of events which led to the goal, less than a minute after Ritchie was brought on. Shelvey played a quick free-kick whilst Newcastle were finalising the change, preventing the information from the touchline from reaching the intended players, leaving the team completely unbalanced. Was there more communication that could have been taken on by the players and coaches? Absolutely. But a lack of game management and tactical nous from some of the sides more experienced players meant that once again, Newcastle were the architects of their own downfall.
The Baggies, who lost last night against Everton, will come into this game buoyed by their recent performances including a win at Brighton and draws against Manchester United and Burnley. Allardyce’s effect on the side is becoming evident, especially defensively, wherein the three games prior to last night, they only conceded one goal; a spectacular left-footed volley by Bruno Fernandes. What also makes their defensive record impressive, is that they played over an hour against Burnley with 10 men and they kept a clean sheet against a Brighton side with an xG of 3.14. Granted, Brighton hit the woodwork with two penalties, but even so, they are beginning to take the shape of a trademark Allardyce side, digging their heels in to try and escape the drop.
Big Sam may not have gone down a Toon legend during his brief stint as manager, but he is truly a survival specialist. Allardyce has been in charge of 8 different Premier League sides, often sides in turmoil, and never been relegated. WBA may be a step too far, even for him, at least that’s what the Toon Army will be hoping for this season.
Head to Head
In the Premier League era, the Magpies have had the better of the Baggies, having played 23 times and winning on 12 occasions. The Hawthorns has hardly been a happy hunting ground of late in the league however, with Newcastle’s last win back on November 9th 2014. The most recent encounter between the sides back in December at St. James Park ended in a Newcastle win thanks to goals from Almiron and a late winner from Gayle. At the time, Newcastle leapt up to 11th place and for the Baggies, their then manager Slaven Bilic was sacked just 5 days later.
That sacking brought in Big Sam who himself has a great record against the Toon; Played 24, Won 13, Drawn 4, Lost 7. Newcastle fans will be hoping this weekend is full of Big Sam chewing hard on his gum and a lack of those maniacal grins that have haunted the Toon in the past.
Whilst Steve Bruce may not have done much right during his tenure as Newcastle manager, he and Allardyce have an equal record against one another. They’ve clashed 18 times, with both managers winning 7 a piece and 4 draws. With a draw hardly suiting either team and both teams having an appetite for late goals, there’s a good chance one of these records will give.
Newcastle 1-1 Wolves
Manchester United 3-1 Newcastle
Chelsea 2-0 Newcastle
Newcastle 3-2 Southampton
Newcastle 1-2 Crystal Palace
West Bromwich Albion (LDDWL)
West Brom 0-1 Everton
West Brom 1-0 Brighton
Burnley 0-1 West Brom
West Brom 1-1 Manchester United
Tottenham 2-0 West Brom
Newcastle’s game at Wolves depleted an already depleted side, with many players now either injured, carrying knocks or just returning. The good news for Newcastle is that they will have had 8 days of recovery compared to just the 3 days the Baggies will have after their encounter with Everton.
An attack without Almiron, Saint-Maximin and Wilson will have to find goals from elsewhere and given Bruce’s admiration for Joelinton, it would be no surprise for him to get a start. Fraser looked sharp when he came on and created 3 big chances in just 45 minutes and should be looked towards to provide an attacking spark. Gayle and Carroll will both be vying for a start but the chances of either starting will be dependent on Bruce’s formation. Not that Bruce particularly has a track record of choosing left-field options, but if sticking with the diamond, he could turn to Newcastle’s promising youngster Elliot Anderson. The 18-year-old who made his PL debut against Arsenal earlier in the season is a proper number 10 and his energy and knack for goals could provide the side with that edge going forward.
The midfield three of Hayden, Shelvey and Willock look fairly nailed on to start, however a shift to a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 could open up the possibility of Murphy or Ritchie returning to the side. The latter being highly unlikely now given the publicity around the training ground bust-up with Bruce at the training ground on Tuesday.
Manquillo was back in training at the start of last week and will hope to be fit for the game and will slot into the spot vacated by Krafth’s knock. While the Dubravka or Darlow debate continues, it is expected that after making his season league debut last game out, Dubravka will continue. Fernandez too should be fit enough for a start, although in a game as tight as this and with Dubravka just back, continuity at the back will be important and so i’d expect Clark to partner Lascelles.
As mentioned, West Brom hosted Everton Thursday evening, and whilst Allardyce had teased at resting players for the Newcastle clash, a full-strength squad took to the field against Everton. Their midfield engine in Chelsea loanee Gallagher was removed after 70-odd minutes and Snodgrass made his return from injury; both of whom will be looking to get stuck into this Newcastle side. January signing Diagne has started his career as a Baggie well and has been unlucky to not have more than 1 goal to his name. Interestingly, center-back Ajayi, who was available for the Everton game after suspension was rested, but will presumably return for this game to not only boost the defence, but also provide a threat going forward at set-pieces.
Newcastle Predicted XI (4-4-2 Diamond): Dubravka, Lewis, Lascelles, Clark, Manquillo, Hayden, Willock, Shelvey, Fraser, Gayle, Joelinton
West Brom Predicted XI (4-1-4-1): Johnstone, Furlong, Ajayi, Bartley, Townsend, Yokoslu, Gallagher, Maitland-Niles, Diangana, Pereira, Diagne
Newcastle need to get their house in order. The toll taken on the coaching staff and players after the incidents this week regarding Bruce’s man-management, or lack thereof, as well as the training ground bust-up provide a fascinating back drop to an incredibly important game for the Magpies. Their form is atrocious and they look bereft of ideas far too early into a game. But, even if the squad have given up belief in their manager and have stopped playing for him, there’s still their teammates, their contracts, their status’ as Premier League players, and most importantly, the badge to play for. And that should be enough for a big performance.
West Brom will be difficult to break down at the back and will use the likes of Pereira and Diangana/Philips to widen the field of play and frontman Diagne will be a handful. If Newcastle stick to their diamond formation, West Brom’s strengths when numbering up on the wings will cause problems for our full-backs and will require support from the midfield.
This West Brom team are well drilled and will be tough to break down, especially by a Newcastle side who seem to stutter when given the lions’ share of possession. More than that, they are a side brimming with confidence who were unlucky not to get something from the Everton game. If Newcastle approach the game timidly and without a proper plan, against Big Sam in a relegation battle, it may lead to some uneasy viewing for the Toon Army this weekend. It may come down to a set-piece, or a moment of individual brilliance, but I think Newcastle have enough to get a win, even without their main attacking men and I expect this to be the game that they step up.
West Brom 1 - 2 Newcastle United
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Last minute snatch and grab win
Another loss, relegation incoming