Aston Villa-Newcastle United Preview
Newcastle United will be looking to make it three wins on the bounce Saturday when they host Aston Villa at St James' Park.
Steve McClaren's Newcastle (4-4-8) looked all the world like a team destined for relegation just a couple of weeks ago, but impressive wins over Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur have lifted the Magpies out of the bottom three and ahead of struggling reigning champions Chelsea.
McClaren has to take more than just some of the credit for the turnaround. Expensive summer recruit Aleksandar Mitrovic has started on the bench in both victories, but has become a useful impact option and changed the game Sunday when he scored the equaliser against Spurs as a substitute and sparked a late rally capped by Ayoze Perez's winner in stoppage time.
"We have had two wins in a row and we have to continue this form," Mitrovic said. "We were under a lot of pressure after two bad results against Leicester and Crystal Palace and we were disappointed. We know we have the quality to play good football and to be in the top ten, and we don't know why we lost those games in that way.
"We changed our mentality. The gaffer spoke a lot with the players and we have shown that we have the ability to play against big teams and change the game. Against Leicester we were 1-0 down and we didn't do anything to change it and we lost 3-0. But we showed against Tottenham that we can change the game now."
Visitors Aston Villa (1-3-12) are the worst team in Premier League history. That isn't opinion. It is fact. No team has acquired fewer points at this stage of a season, even the record-breaking Derby County side of 2007-08 that finished with 11 points, and the first relegation to the second tier for Villa seems inevitable.
New manager Remi Garde has been unable to stop the rot in the Midlands, but he believes Villa have enough quality to start what would be a remarkable escape with a win at Newcastle - if only they get a piece of luck to restore their shattered confidence.
"There is quality in this team," Garde insisted. "There is a group of core players who have some quality. I really feel that more than quality we need confidence.
"When I see my team play, I really feel the luck or the fortune is now the main problem. We create chances in every game - except for at Everton which was very poor. All the other games we created chances but didn't score. If we had the opportunity to win a game I'm sure the confidence would improve a lot."
However, the recent record between these two clubs suggests Villa may need more than luck. They have not won in eight games against Newcastle, are winless in nine at St James' Park and have failed to even score in their last three matches versus the Magpies.
The continued injury absence of fullback Jordan Amavi won't help Villa's cause either, while Micah Richards and Gary Gardner are also fitness doubts.
Newcastle have a mounting injury crisis of their own. Cheick Tiote and Rolando Aarons are both facing late fitness tests, while Mike Williamson, Massadio Haidara, Tim Krul, Gabriel Obertan, Steven Taylor, Emmanuel Riviere and Curtis Good are all out.