The Mag acknowledges that we probably won’t win today but remains confident that we will remain in the Premier League in May.
Away games, once an oasis of entertainment and points, now a barren wilderness of despair.
Stoke City has never been the most romantic of trips but we usually go to the Potteries with a good chance of winning because we usually have a better team, this season what is the best we can hope for, no more injuries?
Of course not, we are Newcastle United, masters of the unexpected, victors at title challenging Tottenham, players refreshed by a week in Spain and a morale boosting victory over Norway’s finest, why can’t we win away in Stoke?
Well we’d love to be confident but I must confess that a little part of me dies every time I read the club responses at the Fans Forum.
The Mag acknowledges that the club are lousy in every department both on and off the pitch but remains confident that three worse teams are available to make sure that NUFC are a Premier League team next season. Stoke City here we come.
Joyless Welsh headmistress Mark Hughes has done a good job at Stoke since taking over from homeless tracksuit model Tony Pulis in 2013.
This season Stoke have their best ever points haul at this stage of a PL season, Hughes has spent well on some genuinely exciting attacking players going forward, he has got the best out of the support players when the flair players aren’t performing and his team are defensively sound even when missing their best defenders.
So far this season Stoke are unbeaten at home against all of the teams above them in the league and while that gives us more chance of beating them because we’ve got no chance of finishing above them this season, it all points to us playing a team on the up. Sounds too good to be true for the Potters, except when Hughes says it himself, when it sounds like one of the songs off Adele’s new album, he’s about as cheerful as the latest pensions advice from the DWP. His dour media front didn’t stop him putting in for the SJP managers job again pre-match.
“It will be a test for us because Newcastle are fighting for their lives, and looking at their squad you sometimes wonder how and why they are where they are.”
Which is very similar to what Steve McClaren has been saying so far, he doesn’t know what’s going on either.
The Mag acknowledges that the performance by the current manager is disappointing but considers that he has all of the tools available to be able to tell the difference between his arse and his elbow :
“The problem has been in away games and dealing with setbacks and making sure we go into games and score the first goal. We haven’t done that. Once we have had a setback we haven’t recovered from that. We have to deal with that.”
The Mag acknowledges that the players have to deal with that but believe that it would be more productive to concentrate on not going 1-0 down in the first place than psychological encouragement when they do. The Mag emphasises that not conceding goals is a valuable way for a football team to collect points from football games.
Both sides are going into the game with makeshift defences.
Full-back Glen Johnson won’t play and Phil Bardsley is doubtful, while ginger cave troll Ryan Shawcross (Top photo – caption ‘Ryan Shawcross: Injured today’) won’t play either.
Geoff Cameron should partner Wollscheid in the centre with Muniesa potentially coming in to a 3 or filling in at full back if Bardsley doesn’t make it.
For us, with Coloccini and Mbemba both missing, McClaren has the option of partnering Steven Taylor with either Lascelles or the returning Paul Dummett. Either Dummett or Colback could play left-back unless our technically tremendous coach once again decides to play a 20 year old winger with a handful of games under his belt out of position in a hostile environment against top class in form attackers.
‘Rolando: His injury record makes him ideal for Arsenal.’
If Rolando Aarons does play, he won’t need to worry about a repeat performance like the one at Chelsea affecting a potential move to Arsenal, mooted this week. The fact that he’s injured half of the time and ineffective for most of the rest of it, no wonder Wenger wants him, he’d fit right in alongside Wilshire and Walcott.
The Mag acknowledges that Rolando Aarons could one day be a good footballer but believes that previous indicators suggest that him playing left-back away from home should not be under consideration at this time.
It is midfield where this game is likely to be decided and not the defensive midfield where Jonjo Shelvey stands out like baldy, hooky-nosed Beyonce amongst the collective Destiny’s Child of Tiote, Colback, Saivet, Whelan and new £18million Stoke signing Imbula.
‘Shelvey: The new Beyonce.’
It is the attacking three from four which Stoke play who will decide our fate today, Bojan Krkic, Afellay, Shaqiri and Arnautovic are all top players on their day and Hughes has got the best out of them this season, something which can’t be said of Steve McClaren and his talented attacking options of Sissoko, Wijnaldum, De Jong and Thauvin.
With new signing Andros Townsend reportedly injured, impressively it’s only taken him a couple of weeks to try and wimp out of the fight, it’s anyone’s guess what tactician Steve will come up with, including the possibility of Aarons being moved into his correct position, anyone else playing out of position, or us being granted permission by UEFA to buy another £12million French left winger in time for the clash. Whoever plays, it’ll be how these attacking players play that will decide the game today, hopefully ours will defy the form book and put in a better shift than the ones in red and white.
The Mag believes in the quality of the squad and emphasises the challenges coaches face in trying to coax performances out of highly paid, big money international players. The Mag acknowledges that Mark Hughes doesn’t seem to be having the same problem.
In the battle of the target-men up front, Jonathan Walters has 7 goals, our Serbian hero 5. While a goal from either would be precious to their team today, it is perhaps unfair to concentrate solely on their goal-scoring records given that they both work hard and never stop trying.
‘Dynamitro, outside the box.’
Our hope is that sooner rather than later Mitrovic will start looking more like a £14million player than the £2.5million signing from Ipswich.
‘Mitro’, as Steve McClaren called him when enquiring to Paul Simpson who had scored our goal against WBA, perhaps more in surprise than statement, has played well in the last few home games. Yes, he’s missed chances but his overall contribution has been much improved since he took off his winter fat-suit and there is no reason why he can’t dominate the Potters back line today, Walters will probably feel the same about out central defence.
That they both play up front on their own may show that a 4-2-3-1 formation suits the teams, in Stoke’s case that is true with quality attacking players in midfield and only the likes of Crouch and Diouf in reserve, neither forcing a case for their first team inclusion.
For us, with Cisse and De Jong back and Perez under-used it is more difficult to understand, tonight we may have more goals on the bench than in the team and one of the things Steve McClaren may like to address while pondering our lack of away success is our inability to challenge the opposition defence away from home. 4-2-3-1 may be of benefit at home, but a more attacking formation may be a better approach away from home.
The Mag is collectively reviewing our lack of goals away from home on an ongoing basis and believes playing more people who can score goals will resolve this issue. Having scored only 9 goals in our last 20 away games and conceded 48 it is hard to believe that we will get anything out of the game today, but the break may have done us some good.
Stoke boss Mark Hughes said:
“It might take them a little bit of time to get going or they may be really refreshed and raring to go, we just don’t know. We have always seemed to reap the benefits of a break away, so we will see how they shape up.”
Shape Up? Well that would be start. In the 5-1 defeat at Chelsea we were all over the place and our only hope is that the team-bonding session in La Manga has had the desired effect and the players and management remember the history, tradition and community in Newcastle which they represent.
The Mag acknowledges that this is unlikely but appreciates that unless the team starts scoring and winning, the club will have to consider that we will be playing in the Championship next season and it’ll all be their fault. Howay The Lads.
Janmaat, Taylor, Lascelles, Dummett
Sissoko, Shelvey, Wijnaldum, Colback