Newcastle United host Wolverhampton Wanderers at St. James’ Park on Saturday night desperate for a positive result, with Steve Bruce’s side at risk of ending the weekend inside the Premier League’s relegation zone.
The Magpies hold a slender three-point advantage over 18th-placed Fulham heading into matchday 26, but will fall behind the Craven Cottage natives with a loss and Scott Parker’s men beating London rivals Crystal Palace on Sunday.
Bruce’s position at the helm of the Toon is also under increasing threat after back-to-back defeats removed any momentum built from two wins in 14 top-flight games. Owner Mike Ashley is expected to consider a change of manager if Newcastle dip into the bottom three.
Wolves will arrive on Tyneside after successive league victories, so here’s a potential line-up that United could name to end the Molineux natives’ run and claim what has become a rare win…
Bruce has admitted that he faces a dilemma in goal this weekend, with Martin Dubravka expected to earn his first Premier League appearance of the campaign after losing his place between the sticks to Karl Darlow following a pre-season heel injury.
Darlow is thought to be ‘angered’ with the manner at which he learned of being dropped, with The Times claiming that he was not informed of his benching until two days after reports first surfaced of Dubravka being in line for a recall.
Members of the Newcastle first-team squad were also left with a degree of surprise at how the goalkeeper selection was handled, with Darlow one of United’s most consistent performers throughout the term.
“Like every position, I have a decision to make,” Bruce said on Friday. “Karl has done fantastically well. Our goalkeeper [Dubravka], who has been our Player of the Year for the last two years, has been missing for six months. He only came back in December, so Karl has done a fantastic job.
“You have to pick a team every week and will disappoint people. That’s the hardest part of the job and making sure they are part of the squad.”
Newcastle had hoped to have defender Federico Fernandez back fit for Wolves’ visit to St. James’ Park following a calf injury, but Saturday’s match could still come too soon for the Argentine.
“Fede Fernandez has trained all week, but it still might be a bit too early for him but everyone else is OK,” Bruce added. “Joelinton is OK.
“Javier Manquillo is doing very well, better than what we thought, with his ankle injury. Fabian Schar had his operation, so is still in crutches and a knee brace, and Callum Wilson is now three or four weeks away.”
Fernandez being deemed unfit to feature will be expected to see Bruce name an unchanged defensive line from the side that lost 3-1 to Manchester United last time out.
Bruce will not be expected to make any changes in midfield, either, but could err on the side of caution and look to replace Joelinton in the attack.
Dwight Gayle would be the most likely to earn just his second start of the season in all competitions by partnering Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron, despite Chronicle Live’s Newcastle writer John Gibson believing the 31-year-old is “unhappy”.
The striker – who is a free agent at the end of the season – earned his first and only opening call to date during this month’s 2-0 loss to Chelsea, before being dropped to the bench for last Sunday’s 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford.