The FourFourTwo Preview: Stoke vs Newcastle
Unpredictable Potters vs predictably turbulent Toon.
- S’land 1-2 Stoke (LC)
- QPR 2-2 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 0-1 Leicester (Prem)
- Man City 0-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 3-0 Portsmouth (LC)
- Palace 2-3e Newcastle (LC)
- Newcastle 2-2 Hull (Prem)
- So’ton 4-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 3-3 Palace (Prem)
- Gillingham 0-1 Newcastle (LC)
So much for the mass protest at St James' Park last weekend. Almost 30,000 'SackPardew.com' leaflets were handed out before kick-off and the bedsheet warriors were out in full force for the TV cameras, yet the fifth-minute demonstration (the number of games Newcastle have won all year) proved to be little more than a murmur from up high in the Gallowgate End, with the majority of home fans instead opting to cheer on an attack against Steve Bruce's Hull.
That's not to say the same fans are supportive of the Magpies' beleaguered boss – certainly not. It's perhaps more to do with the realisation that the man they really want out – the rhino-skinned owner Mike Ashley – simply won't be swayed by those in the stands as long as Pards succeeds in keeping the club out of the Premier League drop zone while staying loyal to his billionaire paymaster, despite Ashley giving him little support in the transfer market.
As long as that happens, and with over 50,000 continuing to click through the St James' Park turnstiles every other week (94% of 40,000 season ticket holders renewed in the summer), the profits will continue to tick over nicely for the man at the top of the Toon tree.
Of course, a very real threat of relegation to the Championship could change things, and if the club are still in the mire come the New Year, those painted bedsheets and A4 printouts might finally have an impact, so don't chuck them on the fire quite yet, Newcastle fans.
Having started 2014/15 as badly as they finished last season, the league table makes grim reading for the Magpies' silver-haired gaffer, but the late double salvo from Papiss Cisse to earn a draw against Hull will at least give his side some belief heading into October.
Prolific in his first season (2011/12) as he scored 13 in 14 games, Cisse's return to goalscoring form could prove key to the club getting back on track following a woeful run of five wins out of 25 in the league since their 5-1 Boxing Day hammering of Monday night's opponents, Stoke.
That was at St James' Park, however, and since then Mark Hughes' side have sought revenge at the Britannia (1-0, in April) – a scoreline that has decided three of the Potters' five league games this term.
Their smash-and-grab at Manchester City aside, Stoke's results have been mixed so far this term, with the Potters still pointless at home in the league, losing 1-0 to both Aston Villa and Leicester.
The luck hasn't always gone their way, though – they dominated for long periods against the Foxes, before being cruelly denied a win late on in last Saturday's 2-2 draw at QPR, with Mame Diouf and Steven N'Zonzi left to curse golden chances missed earlier in the match.
In his first game back at Loftus Road since being sacked almost two years ago, Hughes would have been forgiven for volleying a water bottle into the stands after Niko Kranjcar's 88th-minute leveller.
"There's a bit of frustration because we haven't got maximum points which we deserved," he said. "But given that we feel our home form will improve markedly, we've got to be encouraged by [our away form]."
Another decent display on the road followed in the week, a 2-1 win at Sunderland in the League Cup, but before he starts dreaming of Wembley his immediate concern must be getting his charges back on track at the Britannia – they are the only Premier League side yet to score a goal at home.
Having impressed at the Stadium of Light, Marko Arnautovic is a doubt after hobbling off towards the end – a shame for much of the Stoke faithful, who believe the Austrian should be handed a regular starting place alongside Peter Crouch. Jonathan Walters could be back in the frame following treatment for a calf injury.
For Newcastle, Cisse, Tim Krul and Yoan Gouffran all missed Wednesday's League Cup win at Crystal Palace with stomach bugs, and Pardew will have all his fingers and toes crossed in the hope they recover in time, especially with Siem de Jong, Davide Santon, Ryan Taylor and Rolando Aarons out of action.
Key battle: Victor Moses vs Daryl Janmaat
In Moses and Oussama Assaidi, Stoke have two loanees capable of giving full-backs nightmares this season, but so far the Chelsea man looks set to have the biggest impact for the Potters. Moses had his best game yet for Hughes' side at QPR, his menacing wing play a reminder of his fine form for Crystal Palace and Wigan before the appearances dried up, first at Chelsea and then on loan at Liverpool last season.
As his player dashboard (below) shows, the versatile Moses isn't adverse to moving infield from either wing, and having been deployed on the left against QPR, he did just that to keep Harry Redknapp's defenders on their toes in a man-of-the-match display. The Nigerian international had a role in both goals, with QPR unable to dispossess him in the build-up to the first (Crouch nodding down his cross for Diouf to tap home), before again crossing with precision for Crouch to make it 2-1.
Such a decent display should see Moses get the nod to start against Newcastle, and new Magpies right-back Janmaat will need to be on full alert, having been caught napping on more than one occasion in recent weeks. First, the Netherlands international's last-minute howler cost his country victory against the Czech Republic, before Hull's Mohamed Diame left him standing as he turned to rifle home the Tigers' second goal.
On a positive note, the former Feyenoord man has otherwise looked solid: against Hull he won every aerial duel and tackle, as well as completing all but 9 of his 64 passes. But alas, like all defenders, goalkeepers (not to mention referees), most followers of the game will only ever judge you by your mistakes – which everyone has a good laugh at on the internet.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Stoke 1-0 N'castle (PL, Apr 14)
- N'castle 5-1 Stoke (PL, Dec 13)
- N'castle 2-1 Stoke (PL, Mar 13)
- Stoke 2-1 N'castle (PL, Nov 12)
- N'castle 3-0 Stoke (PL, Apr 12)
Hughes and Pardew are familiar foes, regularly going head-to-head as frontrunners in the Premier League sack race, but Sparky's the only one winning any plaudits right now. The Stoke boss rotated his team well in the League Cup on Tuesday, making six changes but retaining a few key figures as Marc Muniesa's unexpected double took them through. With a home tie against Southampton in the last 16, he's now targeting his first cup final as a manager. "We talked about this [cup] right at the beginning of the season," said Hughes. "We are only in three competitions and realistically we can only win two of them, so we wanted to try to do our best in this one."
Pardew also had a cup victory to savour in midweek, but rather than inspire them to reach Wembley he's just hoping it can kick-start their league campaign. "The pressure's not going to go away from us while we're Newcastle United and we sit bottom of the league and we haven't won a Premier League game," he said after the 3-2 extra-time win, in which Emmanuel Riviere scored twice.
"We've got to put that right and we've now got two tough away games [a trip to Swansea follows the Stoke game]. We're here for the long-haul and we've got a lot of games to go. There's a big, big season still to play and we're looking forward to building on this small step."
Facts and figures
- The Magpies have only mustered 1 clean sheet in 10 previous league encounters with the Potters.
- Pardew’s side have conceded 2 or more goals in 10 of their last 13 league games.
- Stoke’s last 3 Premier League games on a Monday have ended 1-1.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Another binary scoreline at the Britannia, and it's another small step for the Barcodes. 1-1.