Can Newcastle United do it on a cold Wednesday night at Stoke?
Despite not being in Premier League action over the weekend, results could hardly have gone any better for the 18th placed Magpies, with Sunderland, Swansea and Norwich all succumbing to defeats, keeping United within touching distance of safety.
Steve McClaren’s men will travel to Staffordshire knowing that three points against The Potters will be enough for them to climb out of the bottom three, and if that incentive cannot inspire an improved performance from the capricious Magpies then nothing will.
18 days will have passed since Newcastle’s last competitive fixture by the time they take to the field at the Britannia Stadium and during their prolonged period of respite those within the Magpies’ camp have had plenty of time to conduct a thorough appraisal of their collective failings over the opening 26 games of the season.
A rigorous hot-weather training camp in La Manga was designed to boost fitness, camaraderie and morale amongst a fractious squad that fell apart at the seams during their last shameful outing at Stamford Bridge, and the under-fire McClaren will pray that the controversial trip – which included a 2-1 victory over Norwegian side Lillestrom – can be the catalyst for an upturn in his floundering side’s fortunes.
The Magpies’ perpetually dire away record has routinely undone any positive home results over the course of the 2015/16 campaign, and, if they are to maintain their top flight status over the remaining 12 games of the season, they need to make wholesome changes to a deplorable away day mentality and approach that has seen them wilt at the first setback week after week.
Eighth placed Stoke City are enjoying another stellar campaign under the adroit stewardship of former Wales manager Mark Hughes; with The Potters’ sturdy defence and plethora of technically-gifted forward players making them a force to be reckoned with – as evidenced by comprehensive home victories over Manchester City and Manchester United.
Although Stoke endured somewhat of a dip in form following a congested fixture schedule and a heart-rending Capital One Cup semi-final exit, they have recently responded to their disappointing run of results by recording back-to-back victories over two of Newcastle’s fiercest relegation rivals Bournemouth and Aston Villa, and Hughes’ side will be looking to add momentum to their late season push for a top six finish by piling the misery on United.
With Chancel Mbemba and Aleksandar Mitrovic set to undergo late fitness tests ahead of Wednesday’s game, Steve McClaren faces a number of selection dilemmas, as he attempts to rectify the Magpies’ wretched away record. At this point of the season, there is no room for error, and failure to devise a winning formula at the Britannia Stadium will see the already weighty pressure on the 54-year-old’s shoulders cranked up even further heading into Saturday’s pivotal relegation six-pointer against Bournemouth.
Ahead of the game, we decided to construct a combined XI of players from Newcastle and Stoke City.
The formation is 4-2-3-1.