Newcastle v Cardiff, Championship, February 5, 2010
Whisper it quietly, but Newcastle are a team on the up.
Last season’s relegation from the Premier League capped a miserable 12 months in the Toon’s history in which owner Mike Ashley was on par with the devil, the will-he/wont-he Alan Shearer-to-be-manager made the Magpies look like a jilted lover still craving an impossible return to their former glory, while the name change of St. James’ Park to sportsdirect.com@StJames’Park made the club look like a money-grabbing laughing stock.
But under the management of Chris Houghton, the Toon have enjoyed their season so far in the Championship after rising to the challenge of proving themselves in England’s second top flight. They have lead the division from the start of the season to the present-day, and despite having a little wobble in January that saw the club record one loss, three draws and just two wins in all competitions, the black and whites still find themselves reaping the rewards of a brilliant start the year to hold a four point cushion over second-place Nottingham Forest, while also benefitting from a game in hand. (Newcastle are 4/5 to win the Championship.)
The secret to Newcastle’s success this season has been the ability of the Magpies to hold onto their prized-assets despite dropping a division, and the commitment which the squad have invested in this season’s cause.
With Steve Harper in goal, and Fabricio Coloccini, Jose Enrique and Danny Simpson at the back, Newcastle have managed to set the foundations of a solid and consistent backline. And the results have been self-evident with Newcastle conceding a division-leading 16 goals only this season. (Newcastle are 13/8 to keep a clean sheet, 8/15 against.)
It’s been a similar story in the Toon midfield, where evergreen Kevin Nolan leads the scoring charts with an impressive ten goals, while flanked by the likes of Nicky Butt, Danny Guthrie and Alan Smith. Not only do Newcastle have the luxury of such seasoned Premier League players on their books, but they also have arguably the best player in the division – Argentine international winger JonasÂ Gutierrez – patrolling the left hand side, while the likes of Wayne Routledge and Leon Best have recently been brought in to add even more attacking options to the squad.
Up-top, despite having only cashed in on four goals in 20 matches this term, England under-21 forward Andy Carroll should once again lead the line, while Peter Lovenkrands and Nile Ranger wait patiently in the background for their chance to shine.( Newcastle are 3/1 to win both halves.)
Like many clubs in the division, Cardiff on the surface look to be heading in the right direction after four straight wins has lifted the Welsh outfit into fourth place. But underneath the outer exterior the Bluebirds are once piece of bad news away from disaster as the they desperately look to stave off administration as they balance on the brink of financial meltdown.
So precarious is Cardiff’s position, that chairman Peter Ridsdale is currently public enemy number one with the Cardiff faithful after having assured fans that season-ticket money would go on new signings only for no new faces to arriving during the winter transfer window. The anger feeling of being spoon-fed lies was evident during Cardiff’s last match with Donacaster, as a 200-strong baying mob starting calling for Ridsdale head outside the ground.
But while Dave Jones’ squad may have missed out on some new additions, the flip-side is that none of the club’s leading lights walked out the door. While many suspected that the vultures might be circling the likes of Jay Bothroyd, Peter Whittingham, Ross McCormack, Michael Chopra and Adam Matthews, all the prized-assets stayed put, giving the Welshman real hope that they can achieve promotion this year.
Ahead of the trip to the north east, Jones will assess the fitness of central midfielder Gavin Rae. Rae’s inclusion is all the more paramount for the Bluebirds since Joe Ledley has been sidelined for the remainder of the season after the first of his two hip operations, while midfielder Stephen McPhail is also still a couple of weeks away from playing again.( Cardiff are 4/1 to keep a clean sheet, 2/9 against.)
Back in September Newcastle ran out 1-nil winners at Cardiff courtesy of a Coloccini goal from a set-play, and another tight encounter is expecting on Friday night with Newcastle the favourites once again to narrowly come out on top. (Under 2.5 goals at 10/11, over at 11/10.)
101gg predicts: Newcastle 1 – Cardiff 0 (13/2)
Full match odds here.