Premier League | St James' Park | Sat 3 May | 3pm
Must win for Cardiff players, must endure for Newcastle fans.
It’s been another week of trouble and strife on Tyneside. Monday’s 3-0 defeat at Arsenal was Newcastle’s sixth on the spin and 14th in the last 19 games, as their season continues to peter out in the most miserable of fashions.
- Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-2 Swansea (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-4 Man Utd (Prem)
- So'ton 4-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- S'land 4-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 1-1 Stoke (Prem)
- So'ton 0-1 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-3 Palace (Prem)
- WBA 3-3 Cardiff (Prem)
Supporter ill-feeling towards manager Alan Pardew and owner Mike Ashley has only intensified since this latest loss. Opinion seems partly spilt over who should shoulder more blame for the Toon’s second half of the season malaise; Ashley for not providing the funds to replace playmaker Yohan Cabaye, or Pardew for failing to motivate his phalanx of French troops on top of the seven-match sanction for clashing with Hull’s David Meyler.
The Chronicle’s ‘P45DUE’ front page on Wednesday was particularly damning, highlighting United’s worst run of form since 1987, failure to score in 39% of home games and inability to net in 77% of matches without striker Loic Remy. Furthermore, star player Hatem Ben Arfa has revealed he is “sad and frustrated” at being frozen out at St James’ Park, revealing he watched Monday’s game at Arsenal on TV having been forced to train with the reserves for the past 10 days.
Pardew has opted to keep his counsel over Ben Arfa's comments, saying: "the team comes first and I pick the team on merit." The Londoner has called on the Gallowgate faithful to help create a positive atmosphere for the season's home finale. But he added he understands fans’ frustrations and respects their anger after seeing banners at the Emirates Stadium calling for his head.
Assuming he stays in situ over the summer, what with that eight-year contract he penned in 2012, the 52-year-old says he needs backing from above in the close-season to ensure the Toon can kick on having, somewhat incredulously, still all but secured a top 10 finish this term despite their disastrous run of results.
With a daunting trip to title-chasing Anfield to finish the campaign, Pardew will be desperate to bow out at St James’ Park with a victory, and will be targeting revenge over a Cardiff side who knocked them out of the FA Cup there back in January.
In what was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first game in charge, the famous super-sub watched both Craig Noone and Fraizer Campbell come off the bench and score to overturn Papiss Cisse’s opener. But there’s been little to cheer for the Norwegian since, just three league wins in fact, with last week’s 4-0 drubbing at relegation rivals Sunderland leaving them staring at a return to the Championship after a single season among the elite.
Effectively three points off safety with their inferior goal difference and Chelsea to visit South Wales on the final day, only (another) win on Tyneside will do for the Bluebirds. Solskjaer still believes the great escape is on if they win on Saturday but admits his men have “a mountain to climb and need to start climbing.”
The first step will be to break a seven-match losing streak in the league at St James’ Park, City last picking up any points on Tyneside back in 1963 with a 4-0 triumph.
The hosts will hope to have Luuk de Jong available after an ankle injury, but the prognosis looks less promising for Cisse, Davide Santon, Sammy Ameobi, Gabriel Obertan and Ryan Taylor. Cardiff are set to be without Noone, Andrew Taylor and Mark Hudson, while Juan Cala is suspended after his Sunderland red.
Player to watch: Mats Daehli (Cardiff)
Solskjaer will need his former Molde midfielder to be at his best if Cardiff are to keep their hopes of Premier League survival alive. The 19-year-old ended the first half of last weekend's defeat at Sunderland with just 1 misplaced pass out of 24 and 13/13 in the final third. However, for all of City's possession in the attacking zone, they struggled for penetration and managed only 2 shots, neither on target.
Daehli was also at the heart of Cardiff's best moments in their previous outing, a 1-1 home draw against Stoke. The Manchester United trainee made more attacking-third passes than anyone else wearing red (14/16) and completed a game-high 6/8 take-ons on the left flank as he proved a constant threat.
"He is proving time and time again that he is worth a place in the team," said Solskjaer. "He gets you on the edge of your seat, he does things, the difficult things at times, and he is fantastic at just playing simple when that is required. He's a good footballer, and I think he has done fantastic since he has come here."
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- N'castle 1-2 Cardiff (FAC, Jan 14)
- Cardiff 1-2 N'castle (PL, Oct 13)
- N'castle 5-1 Cardiff (Ch, Feb 10)
- Cardiff 0-1 N'castle (Ch, Sept 09)
- N'castle 3-1 Cardiff (Div 2, Feb 84)
Solskjaer will be buoyed by the fact one of his five victories in charge of Cardiff came at St James' in the FA Cup. He scored there in April 2003 in a 6-2 Manchester United trouncing of the Toon, with Shola Ameobi bagging a consolation for the hosts. The ‘Baby-faced Assassin’ was also famously sent off against Newcastle in April 1998, ‘taking one for the team’ by scything down Rob Lee as he raced through on goal to help United preserve a point in a 1-1 draw. Pardew’s last-ever home game before hanging up his boots was a Division 3 clash against Cardiff in April 1997, for Barnet, just a year before Solskjaer’s scything.
Facts and figures
- Newcastle have failed to score in 13 of their last 18 matches.
- 8 of Newcastle’s last 10 home games against bottom-six teams have had at least 3 goals.
- Newcastle have lost 5 of their last 8 home matches against bottom-six teams.
- Cardiff have drawn the first half in 9 of their last 16 away matches.
Best Bet: HT/FT Draw/Newcastle @ 2.95
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
A cauldron of hate only helps the visitors, who have to go for the win and repeat their cup success. 1-2.