Newcastle United will face last season’s play-off finalists, Sheffield Wednesday at St James’ Park on Boxing Day. Rafael Benitez’s side is looking to consolidate their position at the top of the Championship table.
In previous meetings Newcastle have emerged victorious on 57 occasions whilst losing 40 times. Benitez will be hoping to add another victory to that record on Monday night.
The last time both sides met was back in 2015. Steve McClaren’s Magpies side were drawn against Wednesday in the League Cup, with the Owls springing an upset to knock a lacklustre United, out of the competition.
I asked Shoot Magazine’s Sheffield Wednesday representative, Louis Shackshaft, a few questions regarding Carvahal’s side. Here’s what he had to say:
Hi Louis. Could you tell me who your star players are? Who should we be looking out for?
Our key and most consistent performer this season has been Sam Hutchinson. Hutchinson initially began the season at centre back, but is better in the defensive midfield role. He is now playing in his rightful position with the return of Glenn Loovens from injury. With five man of the match performances this campaign, Hutchinson could just be our match winner. Provided he replicates his usual influential and hearty performances.
A name that stands out on your squad list is Fernando Forestieri. What has his form been like so far?
Forestieri began the season slowly by his standards, but is always one to watch out for. Before his three match ban after being sent off against Preston North End, his form was on the rise. With eight goals and assists combined this term, Forestieri can be lethal at any given moment. When he performs, Sheffield Wednesday perform as a team. He’ll certainly be looking to exploit the Magpies defence.
Manager Carvalhal stated about a month ago he was back to his best and he wasn’t wrong. Against Wolves away, when we ran out 2-0 victors, he showed glimpses of his old self. He pretty much single handedly won that game for us, and proved why he’s classed as one of the better players in the league.
You’re in and around the play off places at the moment. Is that where you’re likely to end up? If so, can you get promoted?
All season I said we would finish 6th and replicate last campaigns finish. Although our squad has improved, so have the rest of the teams in the league. If we do finish 6th, or anywhere in the playoffs, we need to be firing on all cylinders. Confidence and form will be key even though the playoff can be a lottery. I would take finishing 6th and getting to the playoff final once again right now.
Which Newcastle players scare you the most? Who do you think will cause the most problems for you guys?
Obviously, Dwight Gayle is a player everybody in the Championship wish they had on their books. Comfortably sat as the league top scorer, he could tear any defence apart. I only expect him to get better with age. Lees & Loovens will definitely have to be on the top of their game to stop Gayle.
Mo Diame is a solid, workmanlike midfielder. Although he may be a name that doesn’t come first to mind as an attacking threat, he’s the type of player I wish was in the Wednesday squad. He scored the goal against us in the playoff final last season. I just hope he doesn’t come back to haunt us in this match.
What’s your opinion on your manager at the moment? Do you think he will take you back into the Premier League?
Every Sheffield Wednesday fan loves Carlos Carvalhal. He talks the talk and often walks the walk, he has a great personality and ‘usually’ delivers. Whether he can take us to the Premier League is a difficult question. This league is so tough. Anybody can beat anyone on their day, I think even Newcastle who are flying have come to realise this. Having come so close last season, I do think he is the right man for the job. But, as we all know, football can be ruthless at times.
Onto your opponents Newcastle. Where do you think they will finish this season?
You can’t look past Newcastle and Brighton this season. They are the strongest teams and the league table doesn’t lie. At the beginning of the season I said Newcastle would finish top two and I still don’t expect anything else. Brighton have been the best team that have visited Hillsborough this season, beating us convincingly. Our trip to St James Park will be our toughest away day this term. It’ll be interesting to see how we fare amongst the best team in the league. Our downfall this season, and last, is falling short against the ‘better’ teams.
How would you rate your season so far?
Honestly, our season began in bang average fashion. We are slowly but surely climbing the table and seeing slight improvements. Hopefully, come May, we are firm contenders for the playoffs and playing with confidence. Finishing goal scoring opportunities has been an issue so far. If Wednesday can guarantee a few more goals per month, there’s no reason why we can’t finish 3rd/4th.
Do you have a score prediction?
Newcastle United still have Premier League talent. My head tells me they will run out 2-0 winners. Dwight Gayle is uncontrollable this season, he could bag a brace. However, this is football and anything can happen. I think it will be a tight fisted affair. Though I expect Newcastle to come up with the goods. If Sheffield Wednesday come away with anything other than a defeat, I’ll be happy. I’m going for 2-0 to Newcastle.
Can you predict the Sheffield Wednesday starting 11.
4-4-2 Westwood, Hunt, Reach, Lees, Loovens, Hutchinson, Lee, Bannan, Wallace, Forestieri, Fletcher