This was always going to be our biggest game of the season so far, but Tuesday’s quarter-final clash with Leicester feels all the more important now we’ve been dumped out the FA Cup.
Sadly, we were reminded over the weekend that too many of our fringe men are levels below the new standard set by several first team stars. It ended our 15-game unbeaten run and has piled more pressure on this massive meeting with the Foxes, but I am confident we can reach our first semi-final since 2005.
When we met on Boxing Day, Leicester had most of their key players fit and home advantage. This time, they’ll be without several first-team players, in front of a packed out St James’ Park and Toon side desperate to respond from Saturday’s surprise defeat.
Howe has called on his side to “get the crowd into the game” from the off, revealing how keen his players are to not only progress but get that FA Cup exit out of our system. Here’s what he said ahead of the game:
“This is an opportunity and we need to be highly motivated for the game. I am sure that we will be. We need real energy from everyone to get the crowd into the game.
“We have a lot to be positive about, so we need to get Saturday’s defeat (at Sheffield Wednesday) out of our system very quickly.
“This is the biggest game of our season…because it is the next game. It does have a special meaning (especially for the fans), we understand that.
“We need what we have had every home game. A brilliant atmosphere and environment where the team can excel and feel free to give their best.”
Allan Saint-Maximin was back in training on Monday after illness kept him out on Saturday and Howe has confirmed that Callum Wilson, Fabian Schar and Nick Pope will return after rests.
Jonjo Shelvey (calf), Matt Targett (heel) and Emil Krafth (ACL) will miss out once again, with the right-back unlikely to play again this season after a knee injury in our first Carabao Cup win of the campaign.
Toon target James Maddison has been ruled out again, with seven other senior players also set to be absent in Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Jonny Evans, Boubakary Soumare, Ricardo Pereira, James Justin, Dennis Praet and Ryan Bertrand.
Predicted line ups
(4-3-3): Pope – Trippier, Schar, Botman, Burn – Longstaff, Guimaraes, Willock – Almiron, Wilson, Joelinton.
The big calls before kick-off will be for Allan Saint-Maximin or Alexander Isak to start down the left. ASM returned from illness to train on Monday and Isak looked sharp in his 45-minute cameo at Hillsborough.
However, I’m not sure Howe will start the Frenchman so soon after being unwell or the Swede just a few days after his first outing in over three months, meaning Joelinton could continue out wide. After all, he was brilliant out wide in our 3-0 win at Leicester last month and never let us down in that role during our unbeaten run.
Elsewhere, I fully expect the likes of Pope, Schar, Burn, Trippier, Guimaraes, Willock, Almiron and Wilson returning to the side. Botman will surely keep his place, as could Longstaff – although I’d back Joelinton to replace him in the middle IF Howe goes with ASM or Isak down the left.
This was practically the team that battered Leicester at the King Power stadium just two weeks ago, only Wood started instead of Wilson that day. After his awful miss on Saturday, it’s fair to say the Kiwi won’t be in Howe’s XI this time around!
I believe there’ll be a big response to that defeat at Sheffield Wednesday and expect a brilliant atmosphere inside St James’ Park.
Several of our key players have just had a rest, our home form has been generally outstanding and an injury-hit Leicester arrive after three straight Premier League defeats.
Wilson to bag a brace on a memorable night under the lights on Tyneside!
Prediction: Newcastle 3-1 Leicester