Newcastle United are set to play their first derby match of the season when they take on Middlesbrough at home on Sunday. Although the match lacks the prestige and the edge of their encounters with Sunderland, they will have to make do with a Tyne-Tees derby for this season at least.
Both sides were relegated from the Premier League at the end of last season but have had contrasting seasons in the Championship. Many pundits predicted Middlesbrough would finish above Newcastle at the beginning of the season as they had had a less turbulent pre-season. Under new manager Gordon Strachan, Boro are currently a side in transition but are nonetheless dangerous opponents. Their away form has saved their campaign up to now with one of the best records in the division. Boro’s Jekyll and Hyde form means that Newcastle will have to be on their guard. Indeed Chris Hughton still believes that Middlesbrough are one of the Magpies’ biggest rivals for promotion. Last season a 3-1 victory for Newcastle at St James’ Park looked like it could have been the turning point in their quest for survival. But they blew their final two games which means they are currently best of the rest in the Championship.
Striker Andy Carroll will miss the Boro game as he picked up his fifth booking of the season in the draw against Barnsley. Hughton still has plenty of options in attack with Shola Ameobi, Marlon Harewood, Peter Lovenkrands and Nile Ranger all competing for a starting berth. As Hughton has been chopping and changing his strikers of late it is hard to know which pairing he will go for. Ranger and Ameobi both featured for the reserve team in midweek in their friendly match against Hibernian, and Ranger made an excellent impression with a superb volleyed goal. Newcastle also used the match to give trials to Christian Mouritsen and Johan Edmundsson who both hail from the Faroe Islands.
One of the quartet of strikers, Peter Lovenkrands, this week spoke of how personal problems had make life difficult on his return to the club. The Dane was given time off between the end of October and the beginning of November to return to his homeland to be with his family. As his father battled a serious illness Lovenkrands struggled to make much of an impression on the pitch. The former Rangers player said: “It’s been a tough season for me. I missed pre-season and it’s such an important part of the season to miss, and I’ve had family problems to deal with as well, which has made it more difficult. It’s been a distraction, but I have to try and get on with it and stay as positive as I can. It’s made it tough, it has a draining effect on you. When somebody close to you is ill, it affects you as well. I’m somewhere else trying to play football, and it messes with your head. It’s been really, really tough, but I’m trying to deal with it with the support of my family and friends.” Now Lovenkrands looks back to the player he was when he featured for Newcastle in the second half of last season. He has been in good scoring form of late and could return against Middlesbrough after being rested against Barnsley.
St James’ Park could be hosting World Cup football in 2018, so long as England are successful in their campaign to host the tournament. The Newcastle-Gateshead bid was one of the 12 successful host cities that were announced on Wednesday. It would have been something of a surprise if the bid was unsuccessful given the size of the stadium, the passion of the fans for football and the infrastructure of the city. Former Newcastle and England hero Peter Beardsley said: “I’m so happy that people in the region will have the chance to see some of the icons of football playing in their cherished stadium.”
On-loan defender Zurab Khizanishvilli will return to his parent club Blackburn Rovers after his loan deal expired. He is ineligible for the Boro game and Newcastle have decided against extending the Georgian’s loan further. After a promising debut against Ipswich at right-back where he showed his attacking qualities, Khizanishvilli struggled when moved inside to centre-back. He blotted his copy book with a sending off against Doncaster Rovers for violent conduct. Newcastle will now be short on cover at centre-back as Tamas Kadar provides the only back-up if regulars Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini pick up any injuries over the busy Christmas period.