Newcastle United will be looking to return to the top of the Championship when they take on Aston Villa on Monday night.
Both sides would have been expecting to be battling it out for promotion at the start of the season but Villa find themselves struggling down in 17th, despite spending over 60 million on players over the two windows.
Newcastle currently occupy second spot, two points behind leaders Brighton and Hove Albion and five points ahead of third placed Huddersfield Town.
This fixture has become a game fans of both sides look out for at the start of the season. The rivalry has intensified year after year following the 2008/09 fixture at Villa Park when Villa fans taunted the Magpies as their relegation was confirmed.
United come into the game without a loss in six in the league. A 2-2 last time out against Norwich City gave the Magpies a league record of four wins and two draws since their 1-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers on January 2. The fixture at Ewood Park was also the last time Newcastle haven’t managed to find the net in a game.
Three clean sheets have been kept since the turn of the year and following Jamaal Lascelles and Karl Darlow’s errors on Tuesday, the pair will be keen to register another in front of the Sky cameras.
The Villans travel to St James Park without a win since beating Burton Albion on Boxing Day. Steve Bruce’s side have suffered six defeats in eight in that time and have lost their last four. Back to back home defeats to Ipswich and Barnsley have left fans worried with the club sitting just six points above the drop zone.
Villa haven’t recorded a clean sheet since December 18 when they ran out 1-0 winners over QPR at Loftus Road.
Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez has almost a full squad available for Monday’s game with Isaac Hayden, who had an operation in the week, and Rolando Aarons the only two confirmed to be out of the game.
Vurnon Anita is back in full training with the squad but isn’t likely to be risked. Dwight Gayle is available to start the game following his comeback from injury. United’s top goalscorer played the final 15 minutes in the draw at Norwich.
Similarly, Aston Villa also have almost a full squad at their disposal. Defender Ritchie De Laet and striker Gabby Agbonlahor remain sidelined for the visitors and new January signing James Bree is unlikely to be fit in time for Monday’s game but the Villains will hand late fitness test to Neil Taylor and Mile Jedinak.
Newcastle are more than likely to stick to the usual 4-2-3-1 that they have used since the start of the season. The defence is almost certain to stay the same and with Benitez calling upon Jack Colback to raise his game following Hayden’s injury, he is likely to feature alongside Jonjo Shelvey.
The only real mystery surrounding the starting eleven is whether Benitez goes with Mohamed Diame or Ayoze Perez. The latter was given a start against Norwich and put in an impressive performance which leaves the manager with a tough decision. Gayle will make his full return to the side.
Newcastle (4-2-3-1): Darlow, Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett, Colback, Shelvey, Ritchie, Perez, Gouffran, Gayle
Aston Villa have chosen to adopt a similar formation to the hosts in recent weeks as they look to fit new signing Scott Hogan and top goalscorer Jonathon Kodjia into the side. Conor Hourihane will start as well as pantomime villain Henri Lansbury, who is sure to get a frosty reception from the 52,000 Geordie’s following his actions when Newcastle visited his old side Nottingham Forest in December. Kodjia is likely to maintain his place on the wing with £12m signing Hogan starting upfront.
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Johnstone, Hutton, Chester, Elphick, Taylor, Hourihane, Jedinak, Adomah, Lansbury, Kodjia, Hogan.
The last game between the two was in September. The game ended 1-1 but the Magpies should have been out of sight in the first-half after missing numerous opportunities. Villa had a much stronger second-half and could have won the game as they looked to take advantage of Newcastle’s deep line.
Aston Villa are without a win against United however in 11 of the last meetings. A 1-0 victory in 2011 at Villa Park was the last time the Claret and Blues took three points from the Magpies.
The visitors haven’t managed to take three points away from St James Park since 2005, despite having eight opportunities.
Newcastle wins: 12
Aston Villa wins: 6