• Spotland Stadium
  • FA Cup 3rd Round
  • 12.31pm, Saturday 4th January 2020*

Live on BT Sport

After a particularly inauspicious start to the new decade, Steve Bruce leads his patched up, misfiring charges to the North West this Saturday for an FA Cup tie, which is kindly being sponsored by Ronnie Radford’s banana skin emporium.

Facing us are League One’s Rochdale, a team languishing just four points above the drop zone, who’ve won just seven out of twenty four played and currently have a minus fourteen goal difference. The BT pundits must be weeing themselves with excitement.

If I’m honest, I’d rather not talk about United at the moment but it’s kind of unavoidable in a match preview. I also know two halves of eff all about our opponents, so I’m afraid we’re gonna have to feature heavily.

The wheels came well and truly off the tracks v Leicester. We were bloody awful from start to finish, offering nothing offensively (again) and committing hari-kiri at the back. We also managed to lose five more to serious looking injuries, meaning we now have eleven first teamers missing. This, of course puts us top of the Premiership injury table. At least we’re good at something, I suppose.

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking at this fixture thinking we’ve one foot on the safety ladder, I reckon we’ll give the Cup a proper go this time. I was being Steve Naïve. The teams below us are rallying and we’re once more lacking possession of a rudder.

What will Steve do? Pick the best possible side and risk the likes of Andy Carroll getting fettled, or send out a team of bairns carrying a white flag? I don’t know the answer and would imagine he’s probably struggling with it too. If I had to guess, I reckon his muddled thought process will lead him to do a bit of both.

I think we’ll see the perennially benched given a go. Expect the likes of Gayle and Atsu to figure. I think both Longstaffs will be involved and maybe a few young uns, such as Kelland Watts. He’d probably like to take Lejeune out of the firing line, but with seven defenders unavailable he’ll not get that luxury. Florian’s been flat out on the Titus tablets this Yuletide. Hopefully, he’ll knock that on the head, and his undoubted class will shine through once more.

The dreaded prediction:

It’s rather difficult to assess your hosts when you can’t name a single player. All you can do is look at their results, league position etc and take a stab. That I’m even contemplating the possibility of defeat just tells you what a mess we’re currently in.

If Newcastle play the match and not the occasion, we’ve still got enough quality to prevail. You would like to think that all the probable picks mentioned above will be busting a gut to perform well and prove a point to their beleaguered manager.

The flip side is less palatable. We’re playing a minnow with nothing to lose, in a tight stadium under the merciless scrutiny of the television cameras. Everyone who is not of a black & white persuasion will want to see us fail and we have form when it comes to being massive scaredy cats.

I still reckon we’ll win though. We’ll make heavy weather of it and come through by two goals to one. I’m visiting a new ground with my three lads and am strangely looking forward to the occasion. As I said earlier….. Steve Naïve.

HTL

* There will be a 60-second delay to all kick-off times in the third round across the weekend as part of an FA initiative. This weekend’s FA Cup third-round fixtures will all kick off with a one-minute delay as part of the Football Association’s Heads Up campaign to promote mental well-being amongst fans.

Nick Clark
@Clark5Nick