Premier League | Upton Park | Sat 18 Jan | 3pm
Andy Carroll, Andy Carroll, Andy Carroll, Andy Carroll, Andy Carroll.
Newcastle had been in impressive form this season up until Christmas, tussling at the table's top end and at one point looking like a (very) outside candidate for a place in the top four. Whatever was put in those post-Christmas turkey sandwiches has had a negative effect, however: the Magpies have lost three games in a row since a 5-1 thrashing of Stoke on Boxing Day and also slipped meekly out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle.
WEST HAM FORM
- Cardiff 0-2 West Ham (Prem)
- Man City 6-0 West Ham (LC)
- N Forest 5-0 West Ham (FAC)
- Fulham 2-1 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 3-3 WBA (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-2 Man City (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-2 Cardiff (FAC)
- WBA 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal (Prem)
- Newcastle 5-1 Stoke (Prem)
Granted, two of these games were against title contenders Arsenal and Manchester City, but losing to managerless West Brom will have hurt. Furthermore, Newcastle failed to score in all three defeats. A slip down to a still-respectable eighth has been masked by Alan Pardew's mouthy rant at managerial rival Manuel Pellegrini, as well as the controversy that surrounded Cheick TIote's non-goal in that 2-0 defeat against City. Pardew returns to one of his former clubs this weekend and will be looking to get back to winning ways against the team he guided to an FA Cup final seven years ago.
Sam Allardyce will also be facing off against one of his former clubs, and the strands that link these two teams are tied up by the probable presence of Andy Carroll who, provided he doesn't injure himself trimming his beard or getting on the team bus, should be in line to feature against his boyhood team.
Carroll's first appearance of the season at Cardiff last weekend after six months on the sidelines was a major boost for West Ham. He provided an assist to help wrap up a vital 2-0 win in a relegation scramble that brought huge relief for the Hammers, leapfrogging them above their hosts in the table and out of the bottom three.
Few other clubs seem to base their entire team strategy around one man in the way West Ham do their Geordie giant, and with the transfer window also open there's a sense that the season starts now for Allardyce & Co. With just one win in their last eight games and only two home wins all season, this is a big one for West Ham.
Injury continues to decimate the Hammers' defence. Winston Reid and Joey O'Brien are both expected to miss out, James Tomkins is suspended after seeing red at Cardiff and Guy Demel (arm) and James Collins (calf) are doubts. Ricardo Vaz Te is also injured, while Kevin Nolan is banned. West Ham are hoping to sign striker Lacina Traore in time for Saturday's game but in the meantime Carroll could start his first game of the campaign.
Newcastle are without Mathieu Debuchy (suspended), Fabricio Coloccini and Ryan Taylor (knees) and probably should be without Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa after a nasty challenge took out Samir Nasri in last week's defeat to City. Otherwise Pardew has a full squad to choose from.
Player to watch: Andy Carroll (West Ham)
Who else but the long-haired, bearded wonder? Newcastle's former favourite son should return to starting action this weekend and, of course, it had to be against his old club, the team he left kicking and screaming in the back of a helicopter one dark, transfer deadline day in 2011.
Carroll's return appears to have given the east Londoners a major lift after cup spankings at Nottingham Forest and Manchester City, and Jack Collison this week summed up the mood when he expressed his delight at having their main striker back. "The big man has been working so hard to get fit, so it's great for him to be back out on the pitch and well done to him. Now he can build on what he did at Cardiff.
"It was great to look over at the sidelines and see Andy coming on. There were a couple of dodgy touches from him, but it was a fantastic ball for the last goal and we'll all happy to get him back."
The Hammers' strategy after Carroll came on was clear: lump it up to him and feed off the scraps. Despite only appearing for the last 18 minutes, long balls from Adrian to Carroll constituted West Ham's joint-fourth top passing combination as they looked to get it straight to the big man. Shorn of defenders, you can expect a similar strategy from Allardyce's team when Saturday comes.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- N'castle 0-0 W Ham (Prem, Aug 13)
- W Ham 0-0 N'castle (Prem, May 13)
- N'castle 0-1 W Ham (Prem, Nov 12)
- N'castle 5-0 W Ham (Prem, Jan 11)
- W Ham 1-2 N'castle (Prem, Oct 10)
Pardew escaped a disciplinary charge from the FA for his ranting last weekend and was instead "reminded of his responsibilities" - although it's unclear if the FA made mention that winning football matches is one of them.
Big Sam has never lost to Pardew in Premier League head-to-heads, winning four of his seven meetings and drawing three.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Newcastle have failed to score in the last 3 Premier League games against the Hammers.
- West Ham have scored first in their last 4 matches.
- Newcastle have drawn 0 of their last 11 Premier League away games since a 0-0 draw at Upton Park last May.
- Newcastle have gone 280 minutes without a Premier League goal, their longest run of the season.
- West Ham have had Over 2.5 goals in their last 4 home matches against top-half teams.
- West Ham have thrown away 14 points from winning positions this season, more than any other team.
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Carroll gets among the goals but the game ends in a draw. 2-2.