After a nonsensical 4-4 draw against Luton Town their last time out, Newcastle United will go on the road to pay a visit to Nottingham Forest on the occasion of MD24 of the English Premier League season, with kick-off set to take place on Saturday at The City Ground in a bid for the Magpies to avenge their 3-1 Boxing Day defeat against the Tricky Trees.
Following a depressing first half of the season, it looked like Newcastle had gotten things reasonably right through January by winning three out of four games, although not everything was great with NUFC allowing their opponents to blast goals past them without having any remote idea of how to stop them.
The Magpies have conceded at least three goals in six of their last nine league matches, and it’s not that things are getting any better with Nick Pope still out and recentely-promoted Luton putting four goals past reserve Martin Dubravka last weekend.
Currently sitting ninth in the Premier League table, Newcastle’s aspirations for a top-four finish appear dim at best, impossible at worst. The boys are trailing fourth-place Aston Villa by 13 points and there are nearly the same odds the Magpies finish fourth as there are for them to get relegated down to the Championship. No, seriously.
That’s a stretch, of course, and clinching a place allowing Newcastle to play European football next season is still a more than achievable goal for the Magpies through the final three months of play. Entering the weekend they are just five points behind Manchester United in sixth and three behind West Ham in seventh... so there is a chance!
The injury front presents challenges for Newcastle, although that’s probably hardly news at this point and given what’s been the main talking point all season long. Alexander Isak, Nick Pope, Matt Targett, Elliot Anderson, and Sandro Tonali all sidelined and not close to returning. Doubts also linger over Anthony Gordon, Joe Willock, and Jamaal Lascelles. At least Callum Wilson and Harvey Barnes should be there.
Here are some of Howe’s Wisdom Nuggets, courtesy of NUFC.co.uk
On the fitness of Gordon and Isak...
“(Anthony) hasn’t trained this week. We don’t think the injury is serious—we hope he is back sooner than later.
“Alex won’t make this game. We hope he won’t be too far away for the following games, but he doesn’t have a fixed return date yet. He is making good progress—the injury isn’t as serious as first feared.”
On Joe Willock and Elliot Anderson, who remain sidelined...
“They’re doing well at this moment in time. Joe’s working really hard—he’s not trained with the group yet, but he’s working really hard with the sport science team. He’s in that final stage of his rehab and we hope he can be back pretty soon.”
“Elliot’s not far away either. He’s had good news on his scan a while ago and he’s now really kicked up his running, so both players are getting closer.”
On Wilson and Barnes’ returns in last Saturday’s draw with the Hatters...
“(Callum) has trained well this week—we’ve been really pleased with him. I thought he did well last week in a 45-minute cameo. Prior to that game he hadn’t really trained a great deal with the team, so he was again thrust back into action really. But he looks good, he’s getting his sharpness back, and he’s had a good week in front of goal.”
“(Harvey) has worked incredibly hard, it has been frustrating for him. I know he’s had that frustration internally, for a long time, where he just didn’t feel right. He was working hard and still just feeling some sensations in his foot.
“You saw his quality - what a finish that was on his wrong side, from that distance. He only had a really small part of the goal to aim at, and he finished it brilliantly - and in that moment, sort of summed up what we have missed from potential substitutes when you’re struggling in a game and you need to change the flow of the game, the momentum. We haven’t had those options for a number of weeks, and it was a big moment for us.”
On the Boxing Day defeat to Forest in the reverse fixture at St. James’ Park...
“It was a game that got away from us, which when we went 1-0 up you didn’t really see coming. I thought we’d started the game really well and I actually think through lots of that game we were pretty good.
“But we got some key details wrong, we conceded some poor goals, which is something we have to improve on. Overall it was a disappointing day which promised so much, and of course there’s lots of things we can take from that game into this one.”
- Date: Saturday, Feb. 10th
- Kick-off: 17:30 BST / 12:30 EST
- Location: City Ground, Nottingham (England)