Tuesday night sees Newcastle face Manchester United in a re-match of the opening game of the season. When the two sides met back in August the Magpies were taught a tough lesson on their return to the top flight as they lost 3-0 at Old Trafford. The result did little to dispel expectations that Chris Hughton’s men would struggle this season. However, since then Newcastle have enjoyed a solid campaign and currently occupy a place in the top 10. Results over the weekend will have caused little trepidation and the Geordies are well placed to finish above bitter rivals Sunderland.
For a time in the mid-nineties Tuesday’s opponents would have considered themselves great rivals although these days they have different expectations. Newcastle will be hoping that they can put a dent in the Red Devils title charge as they near yet another Premier League crown. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team suffered a blow at the weekend in the FA Cup semi-finals but they could bring back several of their big players on Tuesday night. Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez could all return to the starting line-up to boost Ferguson’s attacking options.
Alan Pardew will attempt to lead Newcastle to their first victory over Manchester United since 2001. After missing a host of senior players against Aston Villa, Pardew’s options should be slightly better this time around. Cheik Tiote and James Perch will both return from suspension, although captain Kevin Nolan has one more game to serve in his ban. Up front Shola Ameobi should be fit to give the Magpies another option in attack. Forgotten man Stephen Ireland could also be involved after a succession of injury problems, however he is likely to start on the bench.
For Ireland the time is running out to make a favourable impression on the Newcastle hierarchy. Including Tuesday’s game he has just six matches available to persuade Pardew to make a move for him in the summer. Even that would represent a gamble given the player’s chronic injury problems and lack of form for the past 18 months. The player himself appears keen on a return to the north after falling out of favour at Villa Park. Last week he said: “This