United begin 2017 live on Sky (again) as 6,800 of us head to Lancashire against relegation threatened Blackburn Rovers. The former Premier League champions are in a right mess on and off the pitch. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Blackburn’s plight could well have been United’s, had Rafa Benitez not come into our lives of March 2016. The scandal of relegation at the hands of men making calamitous decisions hasn’t had the effect many of our detractors would have hoped as we are in great shape to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking. A well resourced, united club with a world class manager at the helm. Few would have used those words to describe Newcastle United twelve months ago.
What a season it’s been so far as well. 52 points at the turn of the year. Exceptional. Our ability to win and not draw games is missed by many. One draw this season has allowed us to clock up a mighty number of victories – seventeen and counting. Seventeen is the number of points we’re ahead of Aston Villa incidentally. Eighteen ahead of Norwich. Ask those two clubs (who also invested in their squads heavily) how ‘easy’ this division is.
There’ve been disappointing defeats along the way. Being kind, some of the over the top frustration I’ve encountered from a screaming minority is at the manner of the defeats (excluding Forest away) but the reality is we’ve left ourself such a cushion from the chasing pack (nine points ahead of third, effectively ten with our incredible goal difference) that we can probably afford to lose twelve or thirteen games and still go up automatically (possibly even more).
One of the most disappointing defeats was November’s home defeat to Blackburn which prevented us setting a club record of ten straight victories in a league season. It’s undoubtedly one of the games Rafa referred to recently when he said that his side needed to ‘learn how to draw’. United under performed that day so will know that more of the same won’t end well, despite Blackburn’s lowly position in the league table.
Like Forest, since their victory against United Blackburn haven’t won a game. They’ve drawn twice with Huddersfield sandwiched by four league defeats. So it’s no wins in six since that game at our place. Victory was denied to them by Huddersfield in the 94th minute on NYE, so despite being disappointed not to win the game and move out of the relegation zone, they’ll take heart from the performance.
Recently Reading and Brighton both won at Ewood, by a solitary goal. However Rovers have won just three league home games and only Wolves have conceded more than their 21 goals at home. Only Ipswich have failed to score at Ewood.
United may make changes for this one with Goufrann coming back in for Atsu and Diame for the continually ineffective Perez. I thought Diame did well in CM on Friday and wouldn’t mind him dropping back, however with it being away from home I imagine will look for the team not to concede anymore than the 6 goals we’ve let in away from home this season in twelve away games. Colback and Hayden as a pair had a stinking game and a half last week as a partnership however even before the red card on Friday I though they were more positive in the second half and we were more dangerous as a result. Matt Ritchie got a goal and an assist as he continues his search for his early season form. Dwight Gayle didn’t start that game against Blackburn at home, he’ll be starting here and I expect Blackburn to suffer as a result.
Prediction: 2-0 United
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892
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