MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: Newcastle United Manager Alan Pardew applauds the fans at the end of the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford on November 26, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Newcastle's perfect home record will be tested by an anxious Chelsea and a gratuitous marketing ploy.
Fourth and fifth, Newcastle United and Chelsea are currently on top of what is becoming a third pack (from Newcastle in fourth to Arsenal, 3 points behind, in seventh). Neither side come into this fixture, though, in great form. Newcastle, unbeaten till late November, required a ludicrously generous penalty and a magnificent performance from Tim Krul to avoid a second consecutive defeat at Old Trafford last week. Chelsea, although they did manage to win in the league last week (dispatching relegation flirts Wolves 3-0), have lost a barely credible 5 of their last 9 games in all competitions: including an abject 2-0 reverse at home to Liverpool in midweek.
The devil, though, is (as usual I hear) in the detail. Newcastle's last two games were AWAY in MANCHESTER, which is all that needs be said about that, they remain unbeaten at home (4 wins, 2 draws). That impressive record, though, was achieved when Newcastle played their home games in front of an adoring crowd at St James' Park; tomorrow's fixture will be the first at The Sports Direct Arena. Given Andre Villas-Boas' comments during the week that the anxiety around Stamford Bridge negatively affects his players performance, Chelsea may benefit from playing in the unpopularly renamed stadium.
They will do so, too, with Captain John Terry back in their ranks after he served a one match ban on Tuesday evening. Oriol Romeu, who so impressed Terry standing in for John Obi Mikel last week, will continue in midfield where Newcastle are, again, without Cheick Tiote and Sylvain Marveaux. Social justice's Hatem ben Arfa, meanwhile, should make his first home start for Newcastle in over a year: the
St James' Park faithful locals should enjoy that.