So here we go. Newcastle at home. Palacios back in central midfield with his bossing boots on. Roman (hopefully) replacing Darren Bent up front where Robbie Keane will have to improve on his previous performance when going in search of goals (rather than dropping deeper than a submarine with a gaping hole in its underbelly). Jenas (if fit) and Woodgate are up against their former club. And Jermain Defoe, possibly on the bench. King will start, obviously.
Loads of pre-match hype, the usual worrying omens are winking out from the tabloid papers. It's a must win for Shearer.
Newcastle welcome back Mark Viduka, and if Obafemi Martins plays then I might bite my nails until we are several goals up. They always beat us at St James Park. It’s almost like that scene in the Fortress of Solitude when Superman slots in a crystal and loses his powers. Yes, we're more Clark Kent than a Kal-El at the best of times, but the point being we seem to lose all ability and allow ourselves to be bullied and beaten, all the time, up in the North East. And in recent years, it’s been no better down in N17. They must be packing Kryptonite in their boots.
Last season’s 4-1 defeat was even more ridiculous than usual thanks to the fact that they scored all 4 efforts that were aimed at the target. It was a mugging, but a well deserved one. Make your own luck, score a wonder goal...it all counts. It was still completely unexpected, much like tomorrow might be. At the minute, you’d put your money on Spurs winning. And on form, it’s a worthy bet. Our home record has been pretty great, with few goals conceded. But if there's a game Newcastle need to win, this is it.
Sunderland won today. Newcastle are 4 points from safety. Win at the Lane, and then their home match against Pompey suddenly becomes a Cup semi-final. Three points there and they could possibly afford a defeat at Anfield before the final against Boro (at home again). Then it’s Fulham (yes, it's also at St. James Park) where they may well consolidate their Premier League status...if they pick up the three points.
It’s actually more promising than most would think, but no margin for error is left. It's do or die for them.
The flip side to all this is they've been gash for ages now. Their defence is not great, and their midfield is non-existent. Which is why their defence looks even worse than it is. If they really want it, REALLY want it, they have to conjure up something magical and inspirational. Sound familiar? Wasn’t long ago that our form was worrying all of us whilst those Facebook Relegation Party invites were clogging up my inbox. We were lost, desperate and disillusioned. Bit like the aftermath of getting slapped around by a bullying trucker.
But we remembered what pride and self-respect was.
We always had the quality. It was only a matter of brushing off the pathetic self-pitying to help regain it. The confidence and belief returned. We turned it around. We switched it. We did it to them. I mean the lights were on out here while we were safe in there.
Do Newcastle have what it takes to pull themselves away? Can they trick their way out of certain death?
Even if they do ‘turn up’, there's the little question of Tottenham Hotspur. We owe them. And the team owes the home fans.
Palacios will give us an abundance of grit, tempo and urgency in the middle of the park. The panther prowling, snarling against what is a fragile Toon quartet at the best of times should allow us to dominate, and if we do, then the freedom given to General Mod and the blistering pace of Lennon (who is due a more then decent game) should be more than enough for us to walk on water.
But it’s football. It’s funny. You never quite know.
I guess the problem for us is – goals. We don’t concede many, but we are not full of them offensively either. Something has to give. And Newcastle have that desperation about them where they have to go for it. It will either come off for them, or they will fall humiliatingly into the cold depths of the Championship.
Enjoy the game. Hopefully there's a glut of celebrations only from the men in Lilywhite on Sunday afternoon, with the public left asking:
''They’ve killed Newcastle! What are we gonna do now?'