Apologies for a lack of updates lately, with the amount of work I’ve been doing lately my life mirrors the ‘congested holiday fixture list’! Unfortunately this weekend we have once again discovered that the UK is the only country more efficient in a world war than being in a snow ‘storm’. Early season promotion favourites West Brom and Cardiff both had games postponed which makes tomorrows North East derby all the more interesting as we will find out if Newcastle can extend their lead at the top or if the Boro can keep up with the pack.
Middlesbrough have rarely been considered serious rivals to the Toon Army, the Geordies often focus on their mackem counterparts a few miles down the road so fiercely that Boro are often forgotten in any local affairs. But Sunday will see a change as both fans will no doubt raise the roof off St. James’ Park to support their teams and 3 points would be very welcome for either club. Last seasons tense Premiership encounter between these two sides ended in victory for Newcastle, albeit an unlucky defeat for Middlesbrough.
The task ahead of Boro is tomorrow however is one that many of the leagues other clubs would not envy. Newcastle have only conceded four goals in their ten home games, the best record in the football league and the depth of their squad is often good enough to see them to victory. Shola Ameobi is likely to start after being rested against Barnsley, the often-criticized striker has been missed by manager Chris Hughton and his cult status has elevated among the Geordie faithful. Shola chants were present in Newcastle’s 2-2 draw against Barnsley, but Hughton made the right decision not to rush the striker back as he is a key player for the team. He’s often had a knack for scoring in Tyne-Wear games and he will no doubt be expected to emulate this against the Teesiders; watch for Newcastle to work the wings and get crosses onto Shola’s head.
Newcastle will be without the hard working Andy Carroll, who is suspended after picking up his 5th yellow card of the season. Hughton backed the big striker in Newcastle’s last game after his off the field troubles and after repaying his managers faith with a good performance, Hughton will be disappointed he won’t figure in his game plan. This most likely paves the way for a possible Harewood and Ameobi partnership up front (sounds like a dream come true for the game of football doesn’t it?) unless the manager would instead prefer to play Kevin Nolan in a more advanced role, a position he has been deadly in all season.
Middlesbrough on the other hand will be hit hard with injuries, particularly the loss of Adam Johnson being an unwelcome headache to Gordon Strachan. Defender Sean St. Ledger has returned to his parent club, meaning there will be a reshuffle at the back for Boro and Strachan may be tempted to welcome back Chris Riggot at some point if the defender is passed fit to play.
History has not been kind to Strachan at St. James’. The manager has never won in ten attempts, only once managing a draw. Put that together with Boro’s peculiar form this season and you’d begin to think that a little bit of anxiety may be rising in the Scotsman. The match may be dependant on what Boro shows up, they recently managed a very impressive 5-1 victory against QPR but then lost 3-0 to Blackpool the following game. So far Strachan has struggled to get any form in his side and the club could do with a victory over Newcastle to raise their spirits and kick-start them back into action. The club has a lot of quality players who just seem to be feeling the pressure a bit too much this season, it will be interesting to see how they handle the atmosphere of the derby game.
Boro could well suffer the same fate as many other teams in the Championship this season. Newcastle don’t tend to play very well over the whole 90 minutes, instead presenting the odd incisive move and being rewarded for it. What they do best is stopping other teams from playing their game plan and patiently wait for a breakthrough. Barnsley proved however that enough hard work and keeping your chin up are effective and deservedly grabbed a point.
I don’t think I’m letting my support of Newcastle getting the better of me when I predict that the Toon will win this one. I think most people would back the league leaders who have turned their disputed stadium into a fortress. Middlesbrough have puzzled many this season, they have a lot of good players and a good manager in charge but can’t seem to get it right on the day. Their saving grace is that this game is being played away and on the road they have faired better than their Riverside games and you can often throw the formbook out the window when rivals meet. Overall it should be an exciting game for all football lovers and the game is live on BBC1 from 12.50pm.