Today’s pre-match blog, THE SPECIAL is from Sean Orrick – @SeanOrrick – we are ending a brilliant year at a packed St James’ Park with Newcastle United straining for another 3 points …
Well, safe to say I was wrong (and not to the first time). I thought heading to a relatively in form Leicester on boxing day would be a bit of a test for us. A bit like ourselves they were scoring goals, not conceding many and came back with a league cup win pre-Christmas to, in theory, shake off any cobwebs.
Within 7 minutes that was completely blown out the water, 2-0 up and cruising. Game over after 32. Another statement win for a team who really could achieve something special this year if we keep playing like this.
To do it again without Callum Wilson showed again how we can adapt and bodes well for some of the tests we have ahead.Huge credit must again go to the manager and backroom staff for having us flying out of the traps after the World Cup break.
We’ll certainly want to keep that momentum going today before we face a huge game at Arsenal next Tuesday. And what better to start the new year festivities than a rare 3pm kick off at home to Leeds. I think it’s fair to say both sets of supporters will be up for this one and can very much envisage a few early starts and some lively pubs around the ground both pre and post-match!
We know they’ll bring good numbers up for this one, but they will be coming into a ground we have very much made a fortress since their last visit and 50 odd thousand Geordies who will want to make it as uncomfortable an afternoon as possible! Can’t wait.
Wilson was back training on Thursday, and I think realistically if fit is the only change to the side that faced Leicester. There has been some discussion about ASM and whether he is able to get back in the side. Howe has been clear in his press conferences that there is a role for him, but I just don’t think he gets in our best side at the moment, and it was interesting to see him only get the last seven minutes on boxing day, despite the game effectively being won by half time.
I do think there is a chance we see more of him today, but he will have to take some of the opportunities that come his way to become a regular starter.
Leeds come to us after a 3-1 defeat at home to Man City. As much as it is difficult to take too much from a 15th place side playing the Champions, I do think they were very fortunate the City score was as low as it was. Maybe if a certain Jack Grealish played a bit more like Wor Miggy it would have done…
They are again likely to be missing Bamford, who has had a nightmare with injuries and not scored a single goal in the whole of 2022. I was impressed by summer signing Wilfried Gnonto in this game who caused a fair few problems and might be their biggest threat today.
Unlike some sides this season (Palace, Bournemouth etc) who have come to frustrate us, I don’t think this Leeds side has the discipline to do so today which should make for an entertaining game at least! Only three teams have conceded more than Leeds this season, and they do tend to concede a lot of chances to teams meaning we are likely to have plenty of opportunities to get ahead. They’ve been involved in some open games this season, being on the end of a 5-2 and two 4-3 defeats, along with a 4-3 win.
I certainly won’t be sticking anything on a 0-0 draw today that’s for sure. The extra two days we have had to prepare for this game also counts against them today.
Speaking to one of my Leeds supporting mates this week, there isn’t too much love for their manager. Most of them would have happily stuck with Bielsa come what may, describing it as similar to what we had with Rafa in terms of affection and excitement, and I can understand that. He certainly isn’t full of confidence coming up here and hoping we have a bit of an ‘off day’– not something we seem to have many of these days…
Howe and this group of players have achieved an incredible amount this year and it is worth remembering as we look towards 2023. Before we last faced Leeds in January, we were second bottom of the premier league, one win in twenty and very much in trouble.
Since then, we’ve picked up 70 points, more than double that of Leeds and are now genuine contenders for a Champions League spot (and title challenge depending on who you speak to!). Quite phenomenal.
We last won our final game of the year back in our Championship season, beating Nottingham Forest 3-1 (a 3-2 win against Everton our last top-flight win), but I would like to think that will be comfortably put right by 5pm this afternoon to round off a quite spectacular year…
Sean Orrick – @SeanOrrick