Newcastle United head to Fulham following the international break needing a win to bounce back from the disappointing draw against Bournemouth at St James' Park last time out when an Alexander Isak penalty equaliser saved The Magpies blushes.
The draw left Newcastle 10th in the Premier League table on eight points from the opening seven games, a points total and position that is a significant improvement on last season's total of three points from the opening 7 games before the takeover yet is far less than that which Eddie Howe's Magpies deserve having been on the wrong end of dodgy officiating in many games already which has left to the suspension of VAR official Lee Mason after the Crystal Palace disallowed goal debacle and has placed a cloud of suspicion over the very integrity of the Premier League and its officials:
Throughout 2022 - since the club's new owners were able to inject significantly in the transfer market starting with Kieran Trippier in January for £15M and a list of high profile signings comprising Chris Wood, Dan Burn, Matt Targett, Bruno Guimaraes, Nick Pope, Sven Botman and latterly Alexander Isak for a record-breaking £60M fee - have demonstrated Top 4 form until a litany of inexplicable refereeing decisions has deliberately slowed down their momentum towards the lucrative European places, part of a pattern stopping other ambitious clubs from realising their competitive potential.
The Premier League have admitted the error made by Lee Mason costing Newcastle two points from the wrongly disallowed goal that would have likely led to a 1-0 win like last year's against Crystal Palace yet 2 points is the absolute minimum The Magpies have been robbed of and it could easily be anything up to 11 points depending on how the games would have gone and Newcastle certainly should be in The Top 4 places.
Indeed, there are three Magpies players in The WhoScored.com Premier League team of the Season so far based on player ratings - Joelinton, Fabian Schar and Kieran Trippier - the same number of represented players as from Champions Man City, whom Newcastle went toe-to-toe with in August in a pulsating 3-3 draw that showed Newcastle can live with the very best and if the 'Clear' penalty Alan Shearer & Jermaine Defoe said on Match of the Day should have been awarded for John Stones' reckless jump into Fabian Schar, might have won the game.
Its the presence in that line-up of Fulham's ex-Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic that will be the main source of concern for Magpies Head Coach Eddie Howe and his team not to mention Newcastle fans, many of whom idolised Mitrovic during his ill-fated spell on Tyneside and see a player growing from strength to strength for club & country.
Finally in an attacking Fulham team playing to his strengths as Serbia do, Mitrovic has plundered six Premier League goals already this season in his first seven games after scoring a record-breaking 43 goals in 43 games in The Championship last season and notched a further four midweek for his country in the Nation's League including his 50th for his country in just 76 games which puts Lionel Messi's and Cristiano Ronaldo's goalscoring exploits for their country in the shade:
Who Eddie Howe chooses to handle the threat of Mitrovic is his biggest defensive decision on Saturday with all four of his senior centre backs performing this season and it might be a game to give Jamaal Lascelles, who will know Mitrovic best as the Newcastle skipper was at The Magpies throughout his time at St James' Park while Botman will be hoping to be reinstated after missing out versus Bournemouth although Dan Burn was excellent as Fabian Schar has been all season so its a tough one.
Mitrovic was seen leaving the Ulleaval Stadion in Norway hobbling with an icepack so may be a doubt for the weekend but he will determined to face his former side perhaps with a point to prove as he had his detractors as well as supporters not least ex NUFC boss Rafa Benitez who replaced him with Joselu, Salamon Rondon & Islam Slimani.
Callum Wilson's likely return to action on Saturday is the silver lining on Newcastle's own injury news during the international break that seemed to get worse by the day at one point with Bruno Guimaraes and Alexander Isak pulling out of their respective Brazil and Sweden international squads with injury as well as New Zealand record scorer Chris Wood being taken off injured in his game against Australia which saw a Socceroos national team debut for new Magpies teen sensation signing Garang Kuol:
While the 18 year-old is very much one for the future, Newcastle's focus must be on the here and now and picking up three precious Premier League points and first PL away win of the season against a Fulham side currently above them in the table after an excellent start top flight under former Watford and Everton boss Marco Silva.
From an opening day draw with Liverpool to their 3-2 away win at Nott Forest last game, The Cottagers have looked a different prospect to their previously promoted sides and are good value for their sixth place current spot with summer signing Portugal international Joao Paulhinha proving a revelation in midfield making the most tackles in The Premier League and scoring spectacular goals:
While Palhinha and Mitrovic are the standout players in the headlines, Fulham have built a highly competent side that has been enhanced by the late arrival of Brazilian Willian and Newcastle must be at their best if they are to get anything from the encounter.
Newcastle's own campaign so far - like the Premier League's generally due to the Queen's unfortunate passing and the cancelled weekend of fixtures - has been very stop-start and Howe's men have found it difficult so far to get into any sort of consistent playing rhythm and have been badly let down by officials but the return of first teamers JonJo Shelvey & Allan Saint-Maximum could change the club's fortunes in the nine games remaining before The World Cup Finals in Qatar:
In his pre-match press conference, Eddie Howe spoke a lot about players fitness and the various injuries and recoveries summarised here by the Daily Mail's Craig Hope:
Most encouraging for Newcastle fans will be the return of Bruno Guimaraes and potential return of talisman Allan Saint-Maximin:
and no. 9 striker Callum Wilson:
Howe spoke of knowing the need to turn draws into wins and urged patience from fans:
It'll be another tough Premier League clash yet Newcastle have enjoyed some good results against Fulham in the recent past and some key victories in the capital since Eddie Howe took over and I expect a win tomorrow to restart the Magpies upward momentum before the World Cup.
Prediction - Newcastle United 3 Fulham 2