A truly critical clash in the context of the battle to avoid relegation to the Championship sees Norwich City entertain Newcastle United at Carrow Road, with the hosts holding a three-point lead over their opponents.
That advantage is thanks to a terrific victory at West Bromwich Albion last time out, where they finally achieved their first clean sheet of the season on their travels with the help of a resolute and disciplined display which saw goalkeeper John Ruddy ably protected by those in front of him. It was a cagey affair for the most part as clear chances were at a premium, but Robbie Brady’s goal has given the Canaries a huge advantage ahead of a sequence of games which are likely to define their season.
This begins a run of three fixtures against fellow strugglers, so it is needless to say that manager Alex Neil will be looking for a sizeable points haul in the weeks ahead. A win and a draw from their last two outings suggest that confidence is returning to the ranks at just the right time, but there will surely be tension on display here and it may boil down to which side handles the pressure better. If they can defend well again, Norwich should fancy their chances of collecting three priceless points.
A draw was of little use to either side on the day, but Newcastle did at least end their run of defeats at the hands of bitter rivals Sunderland as they came from behind to rescue a point before the international break. They often toiled as they strove to remain in the game, but earning a draw may have provided a platform for Rafael Benitez to try and plot a route to safety amid all the problems that still exist within the squad and indeed behind the scenes on Tyneside.
Already in the two games since Benitez took over the reins, Aleksandar Mitrovic has been much more of an imposing figure in attack, using his physical strength to produce effective hold-up play, and being in the right place to plant a commanding header to level the Tyne-Wear derby. Last summer’s big-money signing from Anderlecht will be central to the Magpies’ chances of picking up that all-important win here as he looks to unsettle the home defence in a game where only three points will suffice.
Ryan Bennett and Steven Naismith are available for Norwich, who are without Alexander Tettey and have doubts over Nathan Redmond.
Karl Darlow will be in goal for Newcastle after Rob Elliot was ruled out for the remainder of the season. Captain Fabricio Coloccini is still injured, while Jack Colback begins a two-match ban.
Last Meeting: There was plenty of entertainment on display despite the 0-0 scoreline when this fixture was last played in January 2014. Newcastle were the dominant force for the most part but were thwarted by wastefulness in front of goal as well as the woodwork, which kept out Loic Remy on two occasions. Both sides finished with 10 men as Remy got involved in a confrontation with Bradley Johnson, and they duly saw red.