Newcastle United head to The Vitality Stadium on Saturday to face Eddie Howe's former club Bournemouth, who are in a battle for Premier League survival in 19th position, knowing all three points are needed to reignite The Magpies' quest for The Champions League as rivals Man United and Spurs exert pressure.
A draw at home to West Ham while both rivals won meant Newcastle lost ground but there were the big positives of Callum Wilson on the scoresheet again & Anthony Gordon's debut as a late substitute for Allan Saint-Maximin to keep hopes of a Top 4 finish alive especially with Alexander Isak also back soon following a concussion issue.
Off the pitch everything is going positively for Newcastle, who have bought back the land behind The Gallowgate End stand on Strawberry Place meaning the club will be able to expand St James' Park & increase capacity to 65,000+ people which will help satiate demand for tickets from Geordie fans and crucially increase revenue streams:
And news that Newcastle United are going to feature in a 4-part All or Nothing-style Amazon Prime behind-the-scenes documentary charting the club's progress and Carabao Cup and Champions League journeys this season - cameras were spotted filming at the NUFC Fans' FoodBank and near The Director's Box around Saturday's game and throughout the season - was greeted with elation by Newcastle fans online:
Excitement is palpable on Tyneside as the club and fans prepare for its first major Cup final this Millennium but Eddie Howe will as ever be urging focus on Saturday's game - and news that former Newcastle star Christian Atsu a Rafa Benitez signing in 2015, is still trapped in the rubble amid the earthquake devastation in Turkey will help keep feet on the ground despite early, erroneous reports that he had in fact been found:
Lets hope that he is found very soon and thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the natural disaster which puts football into its true perspective.
Eddie Howe and his men have a job to do on Saturday night in front of the SKY Cameras again in the 17.30pm GMT kick off and will be looking to improve on the 1-1 draw against The Cherries at St James' Park in October when Alexander Isak grabbed a Newcastle equalizer from the penalty spot after Phillip Billing had taken the lead for Gary O'Neill's men after an impressive counter-attack:
Newcastle did beat Bournemouth 1-0 in December to knock them out of The Carabao Cup en route to the Wembley Final thanks to an own goal from Adam Smith, who headed Kieran Trippier's dangerous cross into his own net:
Yet once again Newcastle will have to manage without midfield lynchpin Bruno Guimaraes, who was notable by his absence through the first missing match of a three-match suspension on Saturday as The Hammers' impressive Declan Rice dominated the Magpies midfield & was immediately linked with a summer move to the club with Eddie Howe reported to be a big fan of the England star's.
French winger Allan Saint-Maximin made his long-awaited return to the starting line-up on Saturday against West Ham and, despite diligent defensive work was unable to hit the heights going forward that Newcastle fans know he is capable of, yet it was a first start since November for him and Eddie Howe praised him after the game:
The new £40M man Anthony Gordon replaced Saint-Maximin on 69 minutes and had an impressive St James' Park debut with the highlight a terrific through ball to Callum Wilson who on another day might have scored and won the Newcastle the game:
Despite clamour for Gordon to start and potentially replace Saint-Maximin on the left-wing at Bournemouth, Eddie Howe of all people will know just how good The Saint was on his previous visit to The Vitality Stadium as the Frenchman recorded a hat-trick of assists as Steve Bruce's Newcastle thrashed The Cherries 4-1 in Lockdown:
With Newcastle looking rather predictable in attack, its perhaps the perfect opportunity for Eddie Howe - who has preferred a settled team line-up so far this season - to change up his attack and use the options available to him and rest Miguel Almiron and start Allan Saint-Maximin AND Anthony Gordon on either wing and potentially even bring Alexander Isak into the starting line-up to completely freshen up the attack:
However with Callum Wilson returning to goalscoring form and also returning to face his former club for the first time at The Vitality Stadium in Newcastle colours, its likely The Magpies' no. 9 will lead the line despite vowing not to celebrate against the former Cherries if he scores:
Howe is likely also to keep Friday's birthday boy Miguel Almiron in the starting line-up with the Paraguayan reaching the 150 games milestone for The Magpies last week so its likely to be an unchanged line-up with Gordon again used as an impact substitute.
In his presser, Howe began by expressing his wish to see Christian Atus, a player he managed when he was on loan from Chelsea at Bournemouth in 2015/16, be found safely in Turkey, something reflected by everyone connected with both football clubs:
The Newcastle manager had good news on the injury front as well with Alexander Isak back in full training following the head injury which kept him out last week and Newcastle's forgotten man this season Matt Targett close to a return to full training:
Howe hinted Allan Saint-Maximin would retain his place in the team saying the Frenchman "has a window to impress" following his return from injury and the absence of Bruno Guimaraes:
before praising Anthony Gordon on an impressive Newcastle debut at St James' Park:
Both he and Saint-Maximin will certainly have a part to play on the South Coast as The Magpies return to winning ways:
Prediction - Newcastle 3 Bournemouth 1