Newcastle United will be looking to continue their impressive start to the season on Sunday as they host Stoke City in the Premier League.
Among the favourites to go down before the season had even started, Newcastle have not taken long to silence their critics. Chris Hughton’s men were expected to be in for a tough time against Aston Villa at St James’ Park in their second game of the season, but ran out winners in emphatic style, seeing off the Midlands club 6-0.
Despite the win, they have since lost 2-0 at home to Blackpool and beaten Everton 1-0 at Goodison Park. A sign of their inconsistency, or was the loss to Blackpool a one-off and are we instead seeing a team capable of mounting a challenge for a top 10 place in their first season back in the top flight?
Whether it’s inconsistency or the odd poor result, they certainly showed their class in the League Cup on Wednesday night. After making 10 changes to the side that beat Everton last week, nobody expected Newcastle to knock Chelsea out of the competition. But a late Shola Ameobi header condemned the Blues to a shock 4-3 defeat at Stamford Bridge, leaving Hughton with a number of selection dilemmas for this Sunday.
Record books suggest tough task
If Stoke City supporters were worried by their early season form, their fears have been quickly banished.
After picking up no points from their first three league games, Stoke were in the relegation zone with a tough home fixture against Aston Villa up next. Tony Pulis was expected to miss the game after his mother passed away earlier in the day but entered the dressing room at half-time, reportedly blasted the team’s display and they soon turned it around, coming back from a goal down to win 2-1 thanks to a late Robert Huth goal.
That result may just have kick-started the Potters’ season. A 1-1 draw with West Ham United followed and so did an impressive 2-0 win over a full-strength Fulham side in the League Cup in midweek, a match overshadowed by Andy Wilkinson’s stoppage-time challenge on Moussa Dembele who, after initial fears he could be out for some time, will be able to return in two weeks.
Stoke were one of the busiest teams in England on transfer deadline day. Pulis brought in Marc Wilson, Jermaine Pennant, Eidur Gudjohnsen and re-signed released midfielder Salif Diao. But if the Potters faithful are expecting their new signings to lead them to a victory on Sunday, the record books suggest they may have to think again. Stoke have not beaten Newcastle for 21 years and have not won at St James’ Park for 34 years.
Steve Harper has been ruled out for three months after injuring his shoulder against Everton last week, which means Tim Krul is set for his first Premier League start.
Sol Campbell is vying for a start after making his debut against Chelsea in midweek, and could be joined in defence by James Perch, who returns from suspension.
Meanwhile, long-term absentees Dan Gosling (knee), Steven Taylor (shoulder) and Danny Simpson (ankle) remain sidelined.
Possible starting XI: Krul; Perch, Campbell, Coloccini, Enrique; Routledge, Tiote, Barton, Ben Arfa; Nolan, Carroll.
Jermaine Pennant faces a late fitness test after picking up a hamstring injury in last week’s draw with West Ham.
Mamady Sidibe is Stoke’s only confirmed absentee as he continues his comeback from an Achilles injury.
Pulis is set to recall a number of players who were rested for the midweek clash with Fulham, with Abdoulaye Faye and Jon Walters among the star names likely to return.
Possible starting XI: Sorensen; Huth, Shawcross, Faye, Collins; Pennant, Whitehead, Delap, Etherington; Jones, Walters.