Newcastle United and its famous Geordie support are on Cloud 9 after Tuesday's win in The Carabao Cup Quarter-Final against Leicester City and local lad Dan Burn's first goal for the club that sent The Magpies on their way to a Semi-Final against Southampton:
Yet Newcastle must focus on the here and now instead of dreaming of Wembley and next up in The Premier League on SKY Sports' 2pm Super Sunday early kick off is the visit of Fulham and former Magpie striker Aleksandar Mitrovic. The two sides met in early October at Craven Cottage and an early red card to Nathaniel Chalobah saw The Magpies run out 4-1 winners with a half-fit Mitrovic going off injured in the first half:
Eddie Howe can expect a stiffer test at St James' Park against 11 men from a normally robust Fulham team in 2022/23 riding high in 7th place with 28 points compared to The Magpies' 35 points and one even looking at a bid for European football instead of the failing relegation battles the Cottagers have become accustomed to in recent years.
A Mitrovic winner at Leicester sealed all three points for Fulham in early January to take his Premier League tally for the season to 11 and Serbia's All-Time Top Goalscorer spoke about a desire to keep the European dream alive after the match: (via BBC Sport)
"It's amazing. When you get promoted, the first target is to stay up.
"We don't think ahead, we stay with both feet on the ground. We'll see what happens at the end.
"This is a dream for us - we want to keep the dream going."
Fulham won 2-1 last night against Chelsea without the suspended Mitrovic and still managed a win against Graham Potter's hapless Blues, who were unlucky not to give an early penalty away and had new loan signing Joao Felix sent off, so Newcastle will have to be on their guard and at their best for the visit of a strong side on top form:
Marco Silva's men now face Newcastle, Spurs and then Chelsea again at Stamford Bridge but will relish the challenge ahead especially with Mitrovic rested & back but it is combative midfielder Joao Palhinha who has been just as influential as the Serbian striker in Fulham's rise to prominence this season:
Newcastle meanwhile will be keen to get back to winning ways in The Premier League after that frustrating goalless draw in the heavy rain against Leeds on New Year's Eve:
before an excellent away point at The Emirates when Howe's side stopped Mikel Arteta's hitherto runaway leaders Arsenal in their tracks with another superb defensive display:
It was a result which means goalkeeper Nick Pope hasn't conceded a goal for 7 games in all competitions and is the leading goalkeeper in Europe's Top 5 Leagues:
..and he is part of the best defence in The Premier League along with Dan Burn, Kieran Trippier, Sven Botman and Fabian Schar who have collectively conceded just 11 goals in 18 matches so far this season which is a major transformation for The Magpies.
Attacking-wise, Newcastle have scored The Premier League's joint 6th most potent attack but the return to fitness of Alexander Isak & Allan Saint-Maximin just at the time when The Magpies are starting to face teams parking the bus at St James' Park will surely boost those stats especially as Eddie Howe's men face a good run of fixtures - Fulham, Crystal Palace, West Ham & Bournemouth - compared to Top 4 rivals.
After Saint-Maximin missed the Sheffield Wednesday game last Saturday through illness & there was the usual nonsense speculation about the future of the Frenchman at St James' Park but he remains one of Eddie Howe's most creative and direct players and exactly who the team need to break down stubborn defences as he did against Leeds last season and might have on NYE had he been fully fit & played the full match.
His exceptional performance against Man City in August was the best example under Eddie Howe of what he brings to the side as he carved open The Premier League Champions time and again and had a hand in all three Newcastle goals:
Newcastle need a fully-fit and firing Saint-Maximin if the club's Champions League challenge is to remain on track with the race hotting up for The Top 4 with Man United stringing an impressive run of wins together although they have bigger tests ahead starting with Manchester City in the derby on Saturday lunchtime and The Saint's 'The Best Is Yet To Come' message to Newcastle fans for 2023 is full of promise:
And Alexander Isak, who looked lethally fast when he came on as sub late in the second half against Leicester, is returning at the right time to give Newcastle a boost at just the right time will be the cliched 'like a new signing' as Eddie Howe has said after missing a couple of months unluckily through injury after impressing to devastating effect on his Premier League debut at Anfield which should serve as a warning to Top 4 & title rivals:
So its two in-form sides who meet at St James' Park and Eddie Howe was relishing the challenge in his presser after reflecting on the Semi-Final chance:
and he again paid tribute to League Cup hero Dan Burn:
Howe spoke of the need for caution about integrating the returning Isak:
And the Newcastle manager was tight-lipped on the possibility of #NUFC transfers this January window:
Newcastle have the squad and momentum to beat Fulham on Sunday and I fully expect them to do so although it'll be a hard game but there is a need for new players in the transfer market just to keep things fresh, players on their toes & keep that upward momentum going while covering for all eventualities of injuries, suspensions etc.
Eddie Howe's main selection dilemma was whether to field Brazilian Joelinton who was caught drink-driving midweek but apart from that it'll be an unchanged line-up I expect:
Prediction - Newcastle 3 Fulham 1