Crystal Palace-Newcastle United Preview
Last weekend, Rafa Benitez received a warm welcome in his return to Anfield as Newcastle United boss.
It figures to be a far different reception for Alan Pardew this weekend when he finally comes back to St James' Park.
Pardew has guided his Crystal Palace side to the FA Cup final and is in position to heap more misery on the Magpies' faithful Saturday in his return to face relegation-threatened Newcastle.
Palace is back in the FA Cup final for the first time since losing to Manchester United as a player in 1990, and this year's showpiece at Wembley Stadium will be a rematch of that encounter after Pardew's side beat Watford 2-1 on Sunday.
''I was very pleased for the club today because we definitely took our focus off the league,'' Pardew said. ''I think Man United have a difficult game in the final. They will be favourites for sure.''
Newcastle United supporters can only hope that Palace (10-9-16) continue to take their focus off the league since the Magpies are ahead of only relegated Aston Villa in the table on 30 points. Newcastle are one point from safety, with Tyneside rivals Sunderland and Norwich City on 31.
The pre-match focus will be on the return of Pardew, who managed Newcastle (7-9-19) from 2010-14. He never really stood a chance in hindsight since supporters never warmed to him, more so after saying in his first press conference that "I'm not a Geordie of course."
His second season at St James' in 2011-12 was a rousing success with a fifth-place finish before the club stumbled the next season to 16th and narrowly escaped the drop. That led to fans forming the infamous website SackPardew.com and chants of 'Pardew Out' becoming commonplace at the grounds before Pardew left for Palace in January 2015.
These sides have met twice since his departure, a 1-1 draw in Selhurst Park in February of 2015 and a 5-1 thrashing by the Eagles on Nov. 28.
Now Pardew is finally coming back to Newcastle.
"I loved managing Newcastle United Football Club," he said via Crystal Palace's official Twitter account. "I had some great times there and some difficult ones."
He went on to say that he hopes the Magpies survive.
"I'm desperate they stay up," Pardew said. "Having said that, my job is to get the three points for Crystal Palace."
That's a job Pardew has not been doing well lately. Palace has one victory in their last 18 league fixtures (1-7-10), going 0-5-4 in their last nine away from home. The Eagles fell 2-0 at Man United last Wednesday prior to beating Watford.
Benitez has won four times, drawn once and lost once in his matchups with Pardew. The current Newcastle boss was greeted warmly ahead of last Saturday's 2-2 draw at Liverpool from his time guiding the Reds.
His Magpies staged a fightback from a two-goal deficit to end a club-record nine- match road losing streak in the Premier League era as Papiss Cisse and Jack Colback scored second-half goals to snatch a precious point. Newcastle have a victory and two draws in their last three fixtures.
"We said when we won against Swansea 'keep the momentum,'" Benitez told Newcastle's official website. "Against Manchester City, we had a very good reaction from the team.
"So I think we are in a good moment and we have to carry on pushing and try to win every game until the end."
Pardew won't be the only person with Newcastle ties returning since former Magpies midfielder Yohan Cabaye is also coming back. The France international turned in a command performance last Sunday.
"Yohan showed at the weekend: the bigger the game, the better he plays," Pardew said. "I'm sure the Newcastle fans will give him a great reception."
Newcastle will get a break if Palace midfielder Wilfried Zaha misses out. Pardew said that Zaha is 50-50 due to a thigh injury.