Date: Sunday 23rd February 2014.
Venue: St James’ Park.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
UK TV: Sky Sports 1.
It’s a mid-table battle at St James’ Park on Sunday as Newcastle play Aston Villa and I reckon both teams will think they can win it too.
Villa will fancy their chances against us given our recent atrocious run of form. But having the home advantage against mid-table opposition should give us some hope that we might be able to use this fixture to halt our recent decline, which would be a welcome relief.
The league form for both teams from the last eight games looks like this:
As you can see, Villa’s form is better than ours to the tune of five points over the last eight games. Villa managed a draw away to Cardiff in the last game whereas our last point was at Norwich on the 28th January. We haven’t scored a goal since the match before that – away to West Ham on 18th January – and it’s probably no coincidence that we’ve been without Yohan Cabaye for all four of the intervening games and without Loic Remy for the last three of them.
This week, Villa captain Ron Vlaar claimed that spirits were still high in the Villa camp despite three straight losses:
“The results before that were good so it didn’t really dent confidence,” said Vlaar.
“But it does do something. You have to react and we’ve done that well. After [the defeat by West Ham], the team spirit we’ve shown has been really good. Everton is a game you can lose.
“It’s really close in the table but we definitely need points. We can go on with the spirit we’ve shown and we can build on things.”
However, I fear spirits aren’t particularly high in the Newcastle camp. We have, after all, sold our best player – our midfield engine room – without replacement, although I suspect the discontent runs a bit deeper than that single transaction and into the realms of club ambition. The players must wonder what sort of future they can expect whilst Ashley is at the helm. It seems that anyone who makes a name for himself and shows any ambition will be sold, making Newcastle United a bit like a transit lounge: just somewhere to sit before being moved on to a better place. That has got to be disheartening for those players left at the club. I know we’re a selling club and that profits will be taken on players if possible but there are ways to do that which would reduce the impact on the pitch. A bit of forward planning would help. Replacements for sold players could be lined up – or even bought – ahead of player sales and the club could at least act as if it has one eye on the business of playing football. At least that might give the fans and the players some hope.
Anyway, we’re in 9th place and we’ve got a comforting nine point cushion separating us from Swansea, West Ham and Villa – who all sit on 28 points in 10th, 11th and 12th place respectively – but that will soon be eroded if we don’t start taking three points at home against teams like Villa. As it happens, I have an inkling that we might at least get a point out of this game, although I don’t know why. It might just be misplaced optimism. Or possibly desperate hope.
In terms of the team, Fabricio Coloccini should be available for selection after seven weeks on the sidelines recovering from a knee injury, although he may not be risked on Sunday. Cheik Tiote and Gabriel Obertan should have shaken off lesser injuries thanks to the ten day break. Ryan Taylor is of course still crocked with an ACL knee injury and he has probably forgotten what a football looks like by now. Loic Remy will return from the three match ban he was handed after some handbags with Norwich’s Bradley Johnson but, if rumours are to be believed (and I know they rarely are), Sylvain Marveaux may not figure in Pardew’s plans as, following the Spurs match, he has been on the naughty step and was allegedly made to train with the bairns, though this has been denied by Pardew since the time of writing.
During the week, Pardew had this to say about the state of his squad:
“Colo’s worked hard and he’s looking better. He was in all weekend, so he’s had four or five days. Loic’s available, Cheik’s running well and Colo’s trained.”
For Villa, defender Jores Okore is still a few weeks away from recovering from a cruciate ligament problem and Libor Kozak is further away from a return after suffering a broken leg in training last month. Chris Herd and Charles N’Zogbia are Villa’s other long-term absentees.
In Thursday’s press conference about the game, Villa manager Paul Lambert said:
“The expectancy will be on Newcastle. They have been beaten at home pretty heavily in the last few games.
“We are going to go there on the front foot because if we do then their crowd might become edgy.
“Any club that has a big fan base, especially at home they expect to win. When things are going against you then you can hear the grumblings.“
Historically we have the edge against Aston Villa with 68 wins, 33 draws and 55 losses in all competitions, and 20 wins, 11 draws and 8 losses against them in the Premier League. We’re unbeaten in the last five league games against Villa (W3, D2) and unbeaten in the last seven home games against them (W4, D3). The last time Villa won at St James’ Park was back in 2005 when Lee Bowyer and Kieran Dyer had that punch-up and both got sent off.
The last five meetings have been:
Villa 1-2 Newcastle (September 2013)
Villa 1-2 Newcastle (January 2013)
Newcastle 1-1 Villa (September 2012)
Newcastle 2-1 Villa (February 2012)
Villa 1-1 Newcastle (September 2011)
But that’s all history and as Kwai Chang Caine said (no doubt in a philosophical moment before kicking ten bells out of someone): “To dwell on the past is to rob the present but to forget the past is to rob the future” – make of that what you will!
Howay the lads!