So here we go again. In this fixture last season we (Wigan) ran out comfortable 4-0 victors. I don't see that happening as we take on an in form Newcastle side. To start our build up to the game this weekend, here are some questions chillingly answered by the head honcho Robert Bishop from Coming Home Newcastle.
Compared to last season, this one must be a bit if a disappointment. What has been the difference this year?
This season has been a disappointment, sure, but it's sort of one that we saw coming. Last season season Newcastle were able to turn a bunch of losses into draws and draws into wins, thanks in large part to unreal scoring stretches by Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse that happened not to overlap much at all. They finished fifth despite barely outscoring their opponents. A dropoff was expected, but not as large of one as we've seen. We've also had to deal with quite a bit of injury, which some would characterize as bad luck, but really it's luck they created for themselves by not spending and acquiring squad depth over the summer. Thankfully, they corrected that problem in January, so here we are thinking about mid-table instead of the alternative.
January saw Demba Ba depart Newcastle, what did you make of him leaving?
I was sad to see him go. He was a bit inconsistent, but that can be partly attributed to regularly being deployed on the wing, which doesn't suit him. Regardless, he had a huge net positive impact on the club overall, and it's clear that what was once a strength is now a weakness for the club. When Papiss Cisse was unavailable last week in the Europa League, the club turned to Hatem Ben Arfa (not a natural striker in the slightest) and only had Shola Ameobi and 18 year-old Adam Campbell backing him up on the bench. Ba's departure has left a hole that will need to be filled sooner rather than later.
As for the manner of his leaving, I chalk it up to the business of sport. His agents (yes, that's plural) were heavily involved and Ba got to leave for more money and play for a club that will play in the Champs League next year, so it's hard to be mad at him (at least from my perspective). The release clause was what enabled NUFC to sign him, so there's little room to be upset that that's what caused him to leave. Then again, I'm in the minority on this issue.
The incoming players for you saw a massive French Revolution getting some great bargains in the process. Who was your best signing?
This is a tough one. The easy answer is Moussa Sissoko. He scored that brace against Chelsea and has opened up so many attacking avenues. It's amazing the job that Graham Carr did, recognizing that he would fit into the Newcastle system as an attacking midfielder, when CDM was his natural position at Toulouse. However, I'm going to go with Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. Center back was an area of great need, and he has almost made Fabricio Coloccini's absence a non-issue with the quality of his play. That's not to take away from Yoan Gouffran, Mathieu Debuchy, or Massadio Haidara, who have all played significant roles for the senior squad. And who knows? Maybe in a couple of years we're talking about Kevin Mbabu as the best bargain of the window.
The Europa League seems to have been a good exercise for Newcastle this year, do you reckon you can go all the way?
It has and it hasn't. There's no doubt it has stretched the squad thin, especially pre-January, but here we are looking at a trip to the quarterfinals if things go well on Thursday. There are still a LOT of good teams left in the competition, and I'd hate to look past Anzhi Makhachkala, who are quite formidable in their own right. That said, I do think that if the team remains injury-free and out of the relegation fray, allowing Alan Pardew to deploy his best players, Newcastle are capable of doing great things in the final Europa League stages.
How do you think this game will go? And what is your score prediction?
Newcastle are in good form right now, but Thursday's tie will take its toll. Extra time or a particularly contentious match could legitimately damage their chances of achieving a result. I'm going to go ahead and predict a tight 2-1 contest, pretty similar to last week's tie with Stoke City.
Finally, what is your favourite flavour pie?
If you ask me again next week, I'll probably have a different answer. For now, I'll go with apple. Sorry to go all American on you, but a crisp apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream sounds amazing right now.