Newcastle United will hope to get back to winning ways against Aston Villa on Friday night, as Steve Bruce strives to put distance between the Toon and the relegation zone.
Aston Villa beat Newcastle 2-0 at Villa Park in January thanks to strikes from Ollie Watkins and Bertrand Traore, but they will be without influential talisman Jack Grealish for the reverse fixture due to a lower leg injury and illness.
United have their own injury concerns with star forwards Callum Wilson, Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin all set to miss the remainder of the month. So, with that in mind, here’s a potential line-up that Bruce could name on Friday night…
Ryan Fraser and Joelinton led the line for Newcastle against West Bromwich Albion last time out but were unable to beat Sam Johnston as the two sides played out a drab goalless draw.
Fraser started brightly at The Hawthorns and delivered a range of crosses into the Baggies’ box, though his influence waned in the second period and as such, he is not expected to start up top against Villa.
Dwight Gayle will be the most likely man to take Fraser’s position having come on early in the second period for Jeff Hendrick, after yet another abject performance from the summer signing.
Andy Carroll has been pushing for a start during Wilson’s absence too, but he is very much out of favour at present, with the £3m-rated target man featuring for just 13 minutes over his side’s last eight Premier League fixtures – a third of what Gayle earned at West Brom alone.
Gayle starting against Villa would be only the £7m-rated outcast’s second start of the season in all competitions, and it would allow Fraser to occupy the attacking midfield role Joe Willock filled against West Brom.
Bruce was pleased with what Arsenal loanee Willock was able to produce at The Hawthorns but has accepted that he must consider what putting him there removes from the engine room.
“He has played further forward before but I’m also wary of the impact he’s had in midfield, so there’s a decision to be made,” Bruce said on Thursday. “I’ve been very pleased with him. He has given us something different and has the energy in midfield and he can score a goal.”
Willock is likely to return to a deeper midfield role against Villa in place of Hendrick as the sole change from the line-up that drew with West Brom, with Bruce voicing doubts about a recall for academy graduate Matty Longstaff.
The youngster had been tipped to feature on Friday night after a rare appearance with the Magpies’ Under 23s against Sunderland at the start of the week, though Bruce has since stated that he remains outside of his plans.
“He’s not in the side but let’s not forget he’s got a huge future – there’s no question about that,” the Toon boss said, via quotes by Chronicle Live’s Ciaran Kelly. “He had a big rise last year and finds himself not in the team at the moment, so he’s just got to stick with it. His time will come again, that’s for sure.”