Before panicking about another home defeat, once again context is needed. Firstly Fulham were, in my opinion, the best opposition we’ve faced at SJP this season. Their away form this season is second only to ours and they are fast catching up to those in the playoffs. Fulham are the form team in the league and have only lost 1 in 11. That’s exactly the sort of momentum that can see a team sneak into the play offs and snatch promotion. Fair play to them.
Secondly, we had just travelled over 2000 miles for 3 consecutive away games at our 3 closest rivals and put in 3 massive shifts to come away with nearly maximum points. We looked exhausted and desperate for the week off we have now just had. I fully expect normal service to be resumed this weekend in the worst place in the world.
4-1, 2-0, 1-1 (at Hull League Cup QF), 3-1
This is our record in games immediately following home defeats this season. 3 goals per game and a 100% record in the league; we tend to react pretty well to a disappointing loss at St James Park. Birmingham City up next and having already smashed them this 4-0 season in one of our best performances to date – it’s hard to look past yet another bounce back to form from United.
In addition to the above record, we have a fully fit Darlow, Clark, Gayle, Ritchie and Shelvey at our disposal like we did last time we played this lot. It’s not been seen often enough this season (thanks to injuries and hot headed baldies) and it will make all the difference in the run in to keep this core of our squad on the pitch. Gayle put three past Kuszczak last time out and with another week of fitness behind him I expect him to be firing once more.
Yoan Gouffran also scored in the 4-0 at home to Birmingham and I’d expect him to also get the nod to come back in, rested. I haven’t given up on Atsu but his last few performances were disappointing. He needs to work on his crossing and general end product. It’s also no coincidence that Paul Dummett reverted to his terrible form of last season when left without the extra cover that Gouff provides. It will no doubt be his last season with us but he still has a part to play as we close things out.
Number 10. That’s the last question to answer ahead of this game. Our away form playing this formation has been sensational so anybody questioning these tactics really needs a good shake. Alas, the behind the striker roll is a difficult job and we only seem to have 2 candidates. Mo Diamé has struggled in the last few games there, yet has been very good when moved back into midfield in the same run of games. Given space and support from his teammates, he can do this job well. Perez has also played pretty well when picked recently and could well get another chance in this one. Only Rafa will know the answer though and will make a decision based on who is best suited to this game.
It was Diamé in December so my money is on seeing the same again.
Most importantly (and I’m pretty sure that every TF preview of late has said the same thing) is that no matter the team selection and no matter how the game pans out, we as fans have to remain calm and patient. These are Rafa’s words. We’re top of the league in mid-March – Rafa and the lads have got us this far. Let’s keep our heads and get behind them for what should be the last 9 games we play in this horrid league.
Prediction: 3-1 Newcastle
SIMON CAMPBELL – Follow Simon on @simoncampbell11
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