Rafael Benitez has successfully lifted Newcastle United out of the bottom three, but in order to stay one step ahead of their rivals they must emerge with maximum points from a visit to already relegated Aston Villa.
It will be somewhat bizarre to witness second tier football being played at Villa Park next season, with this being the final Premier League game to be hosted there for the foreseeable future. It is likely to be another sad occasion tinged with considerable sarcasm, with supporters greeting every shot mustered by their hapless side with ironic cheers and exaggerated celebrations, but at the same time it would be pleasing to collect just a fourth win of a miserable season.
They had seemed on course to that last weekend as Villa led Watford going into the final minute of normal time, with the help of a tactical change from caretaker boss Eric Black that saw young defender Kevin Toner deployed in a back three alongside Ciaran Clark and Joleon Lescott. But the prospect of winning proved too good to be true, and to make matters worse they even contrived to lose the match deep into added time.
For the home side it never rains but it pours, although for Newcastle there is great hope that an escape can be achieved. Victory here is essential, particularly with relegation rivals Norwich City and Sunderland both having games in hand to fulfil this coming week, but Benitez appears to have given the side some much-needed confidence and belief, as well as injecting a competitiveness within the side that was present much more sparingly under predecessor Steve McClaren.
Some players have stood out more than others during the recent resurgence as defender Jamaal Lascelles has shown just how much potential he carries with a series of crucial contributions, while Andros Townsend looks a player reborn on Tyneside. Frozen out somewhat by Tottenham after falling into a bit of a rut, he has re-emerged in recent weeks and has four goals in his last 11 outings, none more vital than his free-kick last weekend against Crystal Palace.
The only question mark against the Magpies is whether they have the capacity to produce the goods away from home, where have not won since December and have only picked up one point since. This is a marvellous opportunity for three points which cannot go to waste.
The home side have doubts over Rudy Gestede and Jordan Veretout, while Aly Cissokho serves a suspension.
Daryl Janmaat is back for Newcastle after four games out, and they have no new injury worries.
Last Meeting: There were lots of nice touches from both sides when they met in August 2014, but unfortunately there was little in the way of genuine quality or indeed entertainment as it finished goalless. Remy Cabella always looked the most likely to make something happen for the visitors, who came closest through substitute Siem de Jong, before defender Mike Williamson was sent off for a second yellow card.
Played for both – Habib Beye: Signed in the summer of 2007 by Sam Allardyce, the left-back went on to make 52 Premier League appearances for Newcastle up until their relegation in 2009, with his only goal coming late on against Birmingham City. After impressing in the North East he moved on to Villa, but never found favour and only appeared nine times in the league over three years.
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