Newcastle’s head-to-head battle for Europe

The battle for a Europa League spot next season will take centre stage at St James’ Park when Newcastle host Bolton on Saturday. The two English Premier League clubs have had seasons that have exceeded expectations and sit in eighth (Bolton) and ninth spot respectively, with Newcastle two points shy of a European spot, and Bolton just one. However, there is more than just a coveted Europa League spot on the line for Newcastle on Saturday, with redemption on the cards after Owen Coyle’s side thrashed United 5-1 at the Reebok Stadium earlier this season.

Much has changed since, with United’s lone scorer that day – Andy Carroll – now a Liverpool player and manager Chris Hughton no longer in the technical area after being replaced by Alan Pardew just two league games after the rout. Newcastle broke a run of five league games without a win with their convincing 2-0 away win over Birmingham City on February 15. Bolton have won four of their past five in all competitions – including two tough FA Cup away wins over Wigan and Fulham – which will boost the confidence of Wanderers for their trip to the North East.

Pardew will continue to tinker with a makeshift forward structure, although Peter Lovenkrands will likely be rewarded for his opening goal against Birmingham with the retention of his spot in the starting 11. Leon Best scoring a quality header in the same match and should also start, with Nile Ranger not undeserving of game time given he has had some promising substitute efforts this season.

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Bolton have several defensive queries, but have kept clean sheets in their past three in all competitions. Zat Knight and Sam Ricketts are due to spend long stints on the sidelines, leaving Coyle to pick from the likes of Paul Robinson, David Wheater, Gary Cahill and Marcos Alonso for his back four spots. The quartet linked up successfully in their 1-0 Cup shut out of Fulham, and look likely starters against Newcastle.

The last time the two teams met in Newcastle in the Premier League was in August 2008, when Newcastle was triumphant 1-0 in August 2008. United captain Kevin Nolan was playing in the Bolton side then, and he missed a penalty in his side’s loss. Only three of Newcastle’s starting 11 that day – Fabricio Coloccini, Steven Taylor and Danny Guthrie – remain at the club.

Prediction: 2-1 – you can get odds of 15/2 with bet365!


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