Club Focus – Newcastle United – Magpies short of numbers ahead of Villa visit

Newcastle travel to Villa Park on Sunday with a number of injury and suspension problems to contend with. However on the back of an important win over Wolves last weekend they will be confident of increasing the pressure on Gerard Houllier’s men. The midfield area is particularly stretched with regulars Cheik Tiote and Kevin Nolan both absent through suspension. Their loss could see Joey Barton move inside into central midfield to partner Danny Guthrie in an attacking combination. Ryan Taylor may make an immediate return to first team action after serving a three match ban, although he may be short of match practice. There is better news in defence with Jose Enrique set to return at left back, the Spaniard has taken part in training over the last couple of days.

Midfielder Joey Barton has again courted controversy in an attack on the England set-up. Barton believes that he is deserving of a place in the England squad and feels that he is currently the best English born midfielder playing in the Premier League. Many who have seen him play for Newcastle this season would back up those claims. Barton also criticised Manchester City midfielder Gareth Barry in an interview with French football magazine So Foot. He said: “Barry’s got a very good agent. He’s also discreet and always agrees with the manager. He’s like the guy who sits in the front row and listens to the teacher. I certainly don’t lose any sleep when I play against him.” It remains to be seen whether the interview has been lost in translation at all but Barton generally pulls no punches in his interviews. With his comments he risks further alienating himself from the England set-up.

Striker Leon Best will not play again this season as he requires surgery on his ankle injury. The former Coventry City player has made a good impact this campaign scoring six goals from only 10 starts, including a hat-trick against West Ham. That should be enough to secure his future on Tyneside for next season as he has shown he is capable of scoring in the top flight. His absence leaves the Magpies short on cover up front with only Nile Ranger and Shefki Kuqi able to provide back up for Peter Lovenkrands and Shola Ameobi. It may mean that youngster Ranger may be given greater responsibility if survival can be assured before May.

The last time Newcastle and Villa met was in August with the Magpies announcing their return to the Premier League by winning 6-0. That provided one of the highlights of the season so far, that has featured a number of high winning margins. On a more disappointing note Sunday’s televised encounter will be Newcastle’s first return to Villa Park since being relegated there on the last day of the 2008-09 season. Another win over Villa would push them closer to the drop zone and just about complete revenge for that dark day in May 2009.

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