Newcastle players have been dropping like flies and returning to Tyneside from their international squads because of injury in recent days – but things at last appear to be picking up for Rafa Benitez.
The international break set to work in Newcastle’s favour, as the two week gap allows a number of players to get back to full fitness.
Grant Hanley had dropped out of the Scotland squad, whilst Ciaran Clark hadn’t been able to join up with Ireland due to injury and then both Daryl Murphy and Rob Elliot were forced to withdraw.
However, whilst both Murphy and Clark look set to be missing when Newcastle are back in action on 1 April, both Rob Elliot and Grant Hanley were pictured on Wednesday training with the rest of the United squad not involved with their countries. It suggests that both players were allowed to drop out as a precaution against aggravating the knee injuries/knocks the pair had picked up.
Even better news is that Rafa Benitez is set to see his first choice midfield combination back in tandem.
Jonjo Shelvey couldn’t start against Birmingham due to a high fever but the United boss says he expects his playmaker to be ‘back to full strength’ in nine days time.
Meanwhile, Isaac Hayden is due to resume full training once again after injury and stake his claim for a place against Wigan.
The Newcastle Manager has been forced to play Jack Colback in Hayden’s absence and he has struggled throughout, whilst having to play Mohamed Diame alongside him in Shelvey’s absence just compounded the problem, as the pair were woeful against the Blues on Saturday.
As always though, Rafa Benitez is a true professional, praising both Colback and especially Diame for their contributions, though the Manager must surely be desperate to see Shelvey and Hayden back in there for this eight match final run-in.
So long as Hayden has no adverse reaction in training, he and Shelvey will have the rest of this international break to get back up to full speed once again, hopefully allowing the pair to play against Wigan and for Newcastle to properly grab hold of that vital central midfield area.
Rafa Benitez, when asked whether Mohamed Diame could be used again against Wigan in the central midfield role he had against Birmingham on Saturday:
“He (Diame) could play in that position but it also depends on the players around him.
“Hopefully Isaac Hayden will be back in a few days and we should also have Jonjo Shelvey (after suffering from a high fever) back to full strength.
“With Jack (Colback) as well, that means quite a lot of competition, but it is good to have options and especially if you have to change something during a game.
“I thought he (Diame) was fine (against Birmingham), we knew that it could be a difficult game because they have three players in the middle and we had to manage that – but I thought that Mo gave us fresh legs and won plenty of second challenges.
“He was fine, he was passing the ball and also regaining some balls that we lost.
“It was just disappointing that maybe some of the things we did in the wide areas could have been better.
“That might have helped us score a goal but it didn’t really happen though.
“I wouldn’t say that we were happy but maybe one more point, with one less game, is positive.”