May 22, 2015

Over eight years later, Steve McLaren is still looking for a measure of revenge against Slaven Bilic.

The Newcastle United manager goes head to head with his West Ham United counterpart for a fourth time at St James' Park on Saturday having lost their three previous competitive encounters.

It is, of course, due to Bilic that the abiding perception of McLaren in England is not of Sir Alex Ferguson's right-hand man as Manchester United completed their miracle 1999 treble.

Nor the manager who guided Middlesbrough to the 2006 UEFA Cup final via a series of increasingly ludicrous comebacks in the later rounds.

It is the infamous "wally with the brolly" on the night Bilic's Croatia bundled England out of the Euro 2008 qualifiers as McLaren hid from the elements and the opprobrium pouring from the stands of a rain-soaked November evening at Wembley.

The 3-2 win that night added to a 2-0 victory earlier in qualifying, and Bilic completed his hat trick of wins over McLaren earlier this season when two goals from Dimitri Payet secured a Premier League victory for the Hammers at the Boleyn Ground.

The circumstances are very different, but the need for McLaren to guide his side to victory is almost as great as it was before Bilic's success instigated a career walkabout that has encompassed Germany, the Netherlands and the second tier of English football.

The Magpies (4-6-11) are winless in six in all competitions (0-2-4) in a season that has included ignominious losses to the likes of Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Manchester City and Leicester City.

Newcastle currently are second bottom of the division, level on 18 points with the Black Cats, one behind Swansea City just outside the relegation zone in 17th.

A 3-3 draw against Manchester United in the midweek round of fixtures stemmed the bleeding of four straight losses in all competitions to give McLaren hope his side have finally turned a corner.

"You don't know what a monumental effort that is to come back from 2-0 and 3-2 and to perform as we did," said McLaren. "You do get that feeling, but this is how far the team has come from the beginning of the season, and even from Leicester, Crystal Palace, those two games where, could we have come back from 2-0 down? It was questionable.

"Now they are fighting for 95 minutes. It was appreciated by the crowd, appreciated by everybody and that's the standard that we have set."

Opponents West Ham's midweek 3-1 victory over Bournemouth took their unbeaten run to nine games in all competitions (4-5-0), including four consecutive wins.

Bilic, ever respectful of his opponents, is mindful of the unique challenges St James' Park will provide, regardless of the Hammers' current push for European football.

"They are a massive club, they are improving, they have a very good roster of players," Bilic told the official club website. "Going forward they have many options, they are very dangerous.

"They had a good comeback against Man United so they are on a high. It should be a good game, at a great stadium so we are really looking forward to it."

West Ham once more will be without oft-injured Andy Carroll (hamstring) who is out for up to six weeks, but Bilic will be able to call on Victor Moses and Cheikhou Kouyate. Manuel Lanzini (groin) and Diafra Sakho (thigh) have been ruled out.

Newcastle have doubts over the fitness of Vurnon Anita (hamstring), Papiss Cisse (groin) and Florian Thauvin (knock). Tim Krul (knee), Gabriel Obertan (hamstring) and Steven Taylor (hamstring) have all been ruled out.

Newcastle won the corresponding fixture last season 2-0 thanks to goals from Moussa Sissoko and Jonas Gutierrez.

A lone Aaron Cresswell goal at the Boleyn Ground was enough for West Ham to secure a split of the points last season.

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