Newcastle United will strive to get back to winning ways in a crucial relegation six-pointer with Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday night, but Steve Bruce is set to remain without Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin.
The Toon have failed to win any of the five matches played since Wilson sustained a hamstring injury against Southampton last month to now sit only two points clear of the drop zone, having once held a nine-point gap to the relegation places.
Newcastle can move five points clear and still hold a game in hand over 18th-placed Fulham with a win at the Amex Stadium, where Miguel Almiron could make his return from the knee injury sustained in the 1-1 draw with Wolves which also saw Saint-Maximin sidelined with a groin issue.
Almiron is unlikely to be the only change Bruce makes from the line-up which drew with Aston Villa last time out. With that in mind, here’s a potential United XI that Brighton could face…
Joelinton and Dwight Gayle led the line at St James’ Park as Newcastle drew 1-1 with Aston Villa last Friday, but neither could end their droughts in front of the net to remain on a single goal each in the Premier League this season.
A change to a more centralised position for the second half also failed to help Gayle find a foothold in proceedings, as he cut an invisible bystander for much of the game and will likely make way for Almiron to return if the latter is passed fit.
Joelinton is expected to remain as one of Bruce’s two split strikers on Saturday, as the Toon boss was pleased with his efforts against the Villans despite failing to find the back of the net.
“I thought Joelinton, arguably, had his best game in a Newcastle shirt,” Bruce said, via quotes shared by the Shields Gazette. “I thought he was terrific on the night. But, of course, a striker has to top it off by scoring a goal. He understands that, but his overall performance was very, very good. I thought he led the line very, very well.”
Ryan Fraser, who initially occupied a false nine role against Aston Villa before a move to the wing to accommodate Gayle, will also be expected to drop to the bench at Brighton after being slammed for underperforming in the 1-1 draw.
Bruce opting to axe Fraser may see Jacob Murphy awarded first Premier League start in nine games, having impressed the United boss from the bench last week while setting up Jamaal Lascelles’ stoppage-time equaliser.
“I thought he was very, very bright when he came on [against Villa],” Bruce said of Murphy. “We like Jacob, he trains well every day and gives us a different option with his pace and directness. He had an impact last week, which is what we’re looking for.”
Bruce will be expected to name a mostly unchanged defensive and midfield line at Brighton, with Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden and Joe Willock once again protecting Paul Dummett, Ciaran Clark, Lascelles and goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.
However, the right-back spot could feature a new name after Emil Krafth struggled with closing down opposing players against Aston Villa before the £58k-per-week defender was replaced by the returning Javier Manquillo.
Manquillo had played no role in his side’s previous four games due to an ankle injury sustained against Southampton, but returned to fitness quicker than expected and may now be given his 10th start of the Premier League season.
AND in other news, Newcastle’s hopes of signing a “standout performer” have taken a major blow…