As the run in gets underway, a mini set of fixtures sees Blues undertake trips to Ipswich and Brighton followed by welcoming a Rowett return at home to Derby.
However, this is not before today’s task of taking on none other than league leaders Newcastle. In their eyes, a visit to St.Andrews will be more than ideal for them to bounce back from a home defeat inflicted Fulham last weekend. The geordies have had a joyous few weeks on the road picking up two wins and a draw from their premier league hopeful rivals. It’s unfortunate the same cannot be said for Blues who have been timid and weak against the teams around them.
Interestingly, for the first time Blues snatched a result late on under Zola the last match at Cardiff and whilst this shouldn’t be overstated, it is a sign of a team that can fight back and the players will need this.
The depth of quality running throughout the Newcastle squad makes them an impeccable side in this league, particularly going forward. Not to mention they are the league’s top scorers with 70 goals already, they have a defence that has conceded just 32 times this season, only bettered by one goal less by their automatic promotion contenders Brighton.
If Blues play the game to their advantage, they can get something from this. However, outscoring against a side that are very confident in front of goal is not the way to go and if Blues commit to much on the attack they will get hit early on as seen on countless times already when playing Zola’s way. The key to getting any sort of result will be to deny them the first half goal. Far too many times has an early goal succumbed the players into a flat and then easy to unravel side; QPR being the most notable of these.
Out of the two wins the only one with conviction came at the Molineux which was set out to have less of the ball and be compact in a diamond midfield. An approach with less of the ball would make more sense; too much of the ball passing from the back has only caused our own problems and Newcastle won’t need an invitation to take their chances.
Boss Rafa Benitez has demanded a response from his players after they were well beaten in their last outing whilst Zola has publicly called out his players for being “childish” in their performance and “hiding from the ball”.
A hard to breakdown side should be on the cards for the line up with Jonathan Grounds likely to keep his place, being the more logical choice for his defensive duties over Cheick Keita, who doesn’t offer that much needed stability. Unfortunately central defender Michael Morrison is still not match fit. Target man Lukus Jutkiewicz, having grabbed the equaliser at Cardiff, is likely to start meanwhile fellow striker Clayton Donaldson is fully fit and ready to be in contention. After being absent due to injury and illness, Jacques Maghoma is fit to play again having played once since returning from the Africa cup of nations back in January.
Out of the squad for Newcastle are fullback DeAndre Yedlin through a thigh injury. Central defender Cieran Clark, formerly of Villa could make an appearance if he recovers from a knee injury. However, Rafas men will have to do without midfielders Isaac Hayden and Rolando Aarons.
Already there have been three matches against the Magpies with the first a 4-0 defeat at home, under Rowett back in December. This was followed by a 1-1 draw to earn an FA Cup replay at St.James Park which we went onto lose 3-1. If one thing can be learned from these it should be that playing open expensive football will not work when we can be expected to be outplayed.
Whatever the performance, a result will be the focus point and in the unexpected situation we now find ourselves in, it is the only part of the game that matters.