After a week to forget in the transfer market, Newcastle United return to action on the pitch Saturday afternoon when fellow strugglers Reading visit St James’ Park. The Royals are five points and three places below Newcastle, making the clash something of a six-pointer.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew hoped to have a new striker on board ahead of the game, but after Loic Remy chose Loftus Road over St James’ Park, the search for attacking options continues into January’s third week.
It’s often said, though, that having players return from injury is like having a new signing at a club, and Pardew will be relishing the prospect of having most of his key players available for selection.
Jonas Gutierrez came through the Norwich game unscathed and should start again, while Yohan Cabaye is also expected to make his first start in 14 games.
Club officials are set to meet captain Fabricio Coloccini on Monday, leaving the defender available to lead the side on Saturday. After giving the Argentine a rousing reception at Carrow Road, the Toon Army are sure to make their feelings known towards Coloccini when he steps out in front of 50,000 fans.
Steven Taylor is back in training but not likely to start, while Hatem Ben Arfa is close to a return, too.
Ryan Taylor, Haris Vuckic, Dan Gosling and Danny Simpson are all injured, while Cheick Tiote is on African Nations Cup duty with the Ivory Coast. Shola Ameobi—who missed out on a chance to represent Nigeria at the same competition—has served his one-match suspension for being sent off in the FA Cup and is available again.
Reading manager Brian McDermott is without veteran striker Jason Roberts, goalkeeper Alex McCarthy and has fitness concerns over Mikele Leigertwood and Hal Robson-Kanu.
Former Newcastle midfielder Danny Guthrie could start after settling a dispute with his club, which saw him spend much of the first half of the season on the bench.
With the bottom of the table congesting more week by week, Newcastle will view this game as a must-win fixture if they are to drag themselves away from the relegation zone and catch up with North East rivals Sunderland, who are four points ahead of the Magpies.