Newcastle Preview - Home, Feb 27th
The Newcastle United bandwagon and all that comes with it rolls into town on Saturday as the Hornet`s play host to the Championship elect; that if you stick religiously to the mainstream media outlets in this country. Roberto Di Matteo at West Bromwich Albion, and Billy Davies at Nottingham Forest may find cause to contest Newcastle`s promotion credentials.
The Toon in fairness have held the top spot for a large chunk of the season, trading briefly with the aforementioned Forest and Albion, and only recently surrendered a 16 match unbeaten run at the hands of Derby County.
Having finally been handed the managerial reigns on a permanent basis, Chris Hughton has been able to add to his depleted squad in the January window. Former Coventry hotshot Leon Best has arrived to help out local lad Andy Carroll and Danish winger-cum-forward, Peter Lovenkrands. Also arriving was Wayne Routledge who moved from Loftus Road in £1m+ move. Also making the trip from West London to Tyneside was Fitz Hall who penned a loan deal until the end of the current campaign.
The final piece of January business involved a particular unpopular former Hornet`s centre halve who having sampled the sweet, sweet fruit of the Premier League found that he couldn`t cut it before returning to the Championship. Yes, Premier League quality Mike Williamson is now a Magpie having left crisis-club Portsmouth in £1.5m deal. The powerful centre back has enjoyed a good start to life at St James, establishing himself at the back alongside Fabricio Coloccini and was named 'man-of-the-match` on debut.
Although a few Championship players can be found littered amongst the Toon Army ranks, the bulk of the Premier League squad has stuck together and it`s that that has been pivotal in their surge up the table. Despite losing the likes of Damian Duff and Seb Bassong over the Summer, as well as a few dead-enders, the core of the side has remained the same, Steve Harper for example has been in superb form having finally been given a run in the side with Shay Given leaving in January. The Newcastle stalwart has made just 120 league appearances for Newcastle since signing back in 1993.
Equally central to Newcastle`s revival hopes in scouse midfielder, Kevin Nolan. The former Bolton Wanderers Academy graduate has been in superb form for the Magpies on the goalscoring front, notching eleven goals, some have however come when he was deployed as an emergency striker earlier in the season. Nolan has also captained the side in the absence of Nicky Butt and Alan Smith, both of whom remained loyal to the Magpies following relegation.
In terms of firepower Newcastle are well-off. Local lad Andy Carroll has managed 8 Championship goals from 26 appearances. Carroll also managed to score three goals last season as Newcastle were relegated - his first three for his boyhood club, and previously scored once in eleven games for Preston North End on loan. Shola Ameobi may finally have found his level in the Championship, though injury his restricted him building on his 7 goals. In total Ameobi has 39 in 200 for the Toon and the last time he scored seven in a league campaign was the 2003/2004 season. Finally there is 20 year-old forward, Nile Ranger. Signed on a free from Southampton the pacey, powerful forward has 2 goals in 23 league appearances sine making his debut earlier in the campaign. Tipped for a bright future, Ranger has 6 goals in 11 games for the England U19`s.
Ameobi misses out however with an ongoing hip problem whilst Nicky Butt is out with a thigh problem and left-back Jose Enrique has a hamstring problem. Peter Lovenkrands is also going to miss out after a fruitful February with a hamstring problem too.
STOP PRESS: Midfielder Kevin Nolan misses out on the trip due to an ankle problem.
Watford have no injury problems but Tom Cleverley is suspended following his sending off at Scunthorpe, Jon Harley seems most likely to come in down the left.
Likely Watford XI
Mariappa DeMerit (c) Taylor Doyley
Cowie Lansbury Eustace Harley
Likely Newcastle XI
Simpson Williamson Coloccini Van Aahnholt
Gutierrez Guthrie Smith (c) Pancrate