Newcastle v West Brom, Championship, January 18, 2010
Nottingham Forestâ€™s fine recent form, including a win over West Brom in the Baggies last match, means this clash at St Jamesâ€™ Park is not the eagerly awaited encounter between the top two in the division.
Nevertheless, both Newcastle and West Brom have two games in hand on Forest and as the two sides with the best goal difference in the division; it would be no surprise to see them take the two automatic promotion spots at the end of the campaign.
The FA Cup draw has thrown these two teams together at the Hawthorns next Saturday but you can be sure Roberto Di Matteo and Chris Hughton would prefer a win in this one. Newcastle and WBA drew 1-1 (6/1) on the opening day of the season with the Toon thankful to young Dutchman Tim Krul for an inspired performance in goal.
Newcastle can go five points clear at the top of the Championship and nine ahead of the Baggies with a win in front of their vociferous home support. Only 15,805 saw the FA Cup replay win over Plymouth on Wednesday where Peter Lovenkrands starred with a hat-trick as Jonas Gutierrez impressed, laying on two assists for the former Rangers striker.
Lovenkrands spoke afterwards of his hope to start against West Brom in â€œprobably the biggest game of the seasonâ€ but the club have announced that the Danish forwardâ€™s father has passed away and he has returned to Denmark.
Chris Hughton has a host of attacking options available including Andy Carroll, linked with a move to Bolton in recent days, as well as Nile Ranger and Shola Ameobi. Arguably the best player in the division, Kevin Nolan, will provide a threat from deep and West Brom will have to breach a Newcastle defence that is the best in the division and has conceded just 14 goals in 24 matches. (West Brom are 10/1 to win both halves.)
West Brom will be aiming to bounce back from their home defeat to Nottingham Forest last time out. Roberto Di Matteoâ€™s side had recorded three successive wins prior to that loss and Graham Dorrans had scored three in two games before the visit from Billy Daviesâ€™ side.
The Baggies have been boosted by the availability of both Gianni Zuiverloon and Chris Brunt with only James Morrison unavailable from the West Brom squad. Roberto Di Matteoâ€™s team have the best attack in the division and can be expected to give it a good go.
Like most Premier League teams, West Brom have a four man strike force to choose from including Simon Cox, Luke Moore, Roman Bednar and Ishmael Miller. Former Arsenal trainee Jerome Thomas is another attacking player who could cause the best defence in the division a headache.
This is a pivotal game for both teams and West Brom will be eager to avoid defeat against another of their direct promotion rivals. The trouble for Di Matteo and his side is that Newcastle rarely concede and havenâ€™t let in a goal for over 270 minutes. (Newcastle are 9/5 to keep a clean sheet.)
101gg predicts: Newcastle 1 â€“ West Brom 0 (7/1)
Full match odds here.