Newcastle go into their penultimate game of the season looking to match a club record that has stood for 103 years. If they avoid defeat against Roy Keane’s Ipswich side they will have gone a whole season unbeaten in the league at home.
St James’ Park has become something of a fortress this season with many away sides seemingly intimidated by playing in front of crowds that have regularly been over the 40 000 mark. Home fans have been treated to some memorable displays this term with a 5-1 win over Cardiff City and a 6-1 demolition of Barnsley the most eye-catching of the results. Saturday’s game will see St James’ Park at near capacity level with all seats in the home end sold out. There is expected to be an attendance of over 50 000 for the first time this season as fans flock to see the Magpies crowned as champions. The Championship winner’s trophy will be presented after the final whistle to Newcastle’s squad who have secured promotion at the first attempt. However, there will be no open-top bus parade through the city as Newcastle officials try not to go overboard in their celebrations.
Midfielder Joey Barton has said that winning the Championship is the highlight of his career to date. The 27-year-old made a rare start in Monday night’s 2-0 win over Plymouth Argyle and produced one of his best performances in a black and white shirt. In an uncustomary left midfield position he played an important role in Newcastle’s second goal with an excellent through ball to set up Wayne Routledge. Barton still has the support of the majority of Newcastle fans despite his well publicised misdemeanours. Speaking after the game he told of his joy at securing the league title. He said: “I’ve not experienced any of that before. Winning the league and then all of the Geordie fans running on was an incredible, uplifting feeling. They were trying to loft me up and I said to them get me down because I don’t deserve it – it is about the lads who have played all season. I’ve just come in and played a small part. I haven’t been here for the majority of it, but I have been watching and been in the background. I was one of the ones who was there at the start of the season, and one of the ones who wanted to stay. Unfortunately, I got injured and haven’t been able to play as big a part as I would like. I’m just made up. There have been some bad, bad days. The fans have been through a lot. We’re just glad to put a smile on people’s faces.”
Going into Saturday’s game Chris Hughton has a number of injury worries that could see some fringe players given a chance to shine in the spotlight. On loan defender Fitz Hall misses out with a hamstring injury while teenage striker Nile Ranger is out for the season with an ankle injury. Argentina pair Jonas Gutierrez and Fabricio Coloccini could both return after missing the Plymouth game although both remain doubts. There has been some speculation that central defender Steven Taylor could make a surprise return from long term injury after recently returning to training but will probably have to make do with a place on the bench at best. When the two sides met earlier in the season Newcastle ran out comfortable 4-0 winners with Kevin Nolan scoring a memorable hat-trick.
For one youngster on Newcastle’s books it has been a double celebration in the past week as both of his sides have clinched promotion. Goalkeeper Fraser Forster has spent the season on loan with Norwich City who clinched promotion from League One last Saturday. The 22-year-old stopper has enjoyed a highly successful season and has earned rave reviews during his time in East Anglia. Newcastle face a tough decision on Forster’s future as Steve Harper has made the number one spot his own and back-up ‘keeper Tim Krul is another young goalkeeper who appears to have a bright future. Speaking about his great season Forster said: “It is fantastic for Newcastle to go up as wel, along with Norwich’s promotion. I am delighted for both teams and both sets of supporters. It has been fantastic to get the opportunity to be playing week in, week out at such a big club in front of so many fans. I think I have massively improved. I think it has been great for me playing 35, 40 games this season. It has been a fantastic experience for me playing in front of 25,000 fans every home game. It has been great so I couldn’t have hoped for anymore.”
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