The FourFourTwo Preview: West Brom vs Newcastle
Well, West Brom won't be rushed. Two-and-a-half weeks and counting after they gave Steve Clarke the elbow, Keith Downing continues to keep the hot seat, er, warm - and the diminutive caretaker will be around for a while yet.
WEST BROM FORM
- West Ham 3-3 West Brom (Prem)
- Spurs 1-1 West Brom (Prem)
- West Brom 1-1 Hull (Prem)
- Cardiff 1-0 West Brom (Prem)
- West Brom 0-2 Norwich (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal (Prem)
- Newcastle 5-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Palace 0-3 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-1 So'ton (Prem)
- Man Utd 0-1 Newcastle (Prem)
The Baggies' sporting and technical director called off negotiations with Pepe Mel when the former Betis boss suggested he might want to bring some coaches along; Albion would rather retain the services of Downing and Dean Kiely. So all they need is someone willing to work with someone else's coaches, below a Director of Football, for a chairman with high expectations and a maxed-out credit card. And now even Alan Curbishley's got a job elsewhere.
Downing hasn't yet lost in his three games, although nor has he won. Indeed the Baggies haven't tasted victory in the nine games since Bonfire Night – the top flight's longest current winless run – and are now two perilous points above the drop zone.
That's where Newcastle were this time last year, but no such problems this term. Particularly impressive in November and December – 22 points from 10 games is all but title-winning form – the Magpies have been miserly in defence, conceding just eight in that run, of which three were in one game at Swansea.
That defeat at the Liberty was an outlier – having won recently at Crystal Palace, Man United and Spurs, Alan Pardew's side are the top flight's fifth-best away team. They've won five away games, whereas West Brom have only won twice at home – against Sunderland and Palace sides who were then in deep trouble. Both have since revived, both are in significantly better form and it's quite possible that the Eagles (hosting Norwich) could overtake the Throstles while the Black Cats (hosting Villa) could move to within one point. The new boss may be taking on a taller order than it first seemed.
Despite a gash so impressive that Ben Foster was moved to tweet about it, Jonas Olsson should be fit for West Brom. Downing hasn't ruled out Nicolas Anelka despite his celebration controversy.
With no real injury problems, Newcastle will just have pleasant decisions to make, in a sort of Cheick-Tiote-or-Hatem-Ben-Arfa? style.
Player to watch: Nicolas Anelka (West Brom)
Hitherto unimpressive, Anelka burst into life against former manager Sam Allardyce's West Ham with two goals (and subsequent celebration altercation).
He had 6 shots but was also the Baggies' second busiest passer - not bad for a striker in a 3-5-2 system - and created 4 chances. Sidekick Saido Berahino is a fan, and many an Albion supporter will agree if the Frenchman continues to play like that.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- N'castle 2-1 WBA (Prem, Nov 13)
- WBA 1-1 N'castle (Prem, Apr 13)
- N'castle 2-1 WBA (Prem, Oct 12)
- WBA 1-3 N'castle (Prem, Mar 12)
- N'castle 2-3 WBA (Prem, Dec 11)
They may have very different managerial pedigrees - Pardew is the top flight's second-longest serving manager and is closing in on 700 games in charge, while Downing's CV runs to just a year at Cheltenham half a decade ago - but both men may well switch from five in midfield to four for this game. Downing played three at the back for the trips to Spurs and West Ham, while Pardew strayed from his usual 4-4-2 to have an extra midfielder against Arsenal.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- In the last 11 league meetings between Newcastle and West Brom, neither side has kept a clean sheet.
- Papiss Demba Cisse has scored 3 goals in 4 Premier League games against West Brom.
- West Brom have had both teams scoring in their last 6 home matches against middle-third teams.
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
It might be tempting to predict Downing's fourth successive draw, but Newcastle have only drawn one in the last 10 - so it's 2-1 to the Toon.