Six things to look out for ahead of Norwich City’s Championship clash with Newcastle
- Credit: PA
Norwich City's Championship clash at home to Newcastle United this evening is the next chapter in the Canaries' roller-coaster season so far.
Here are six things to look out for ahead of the Magpies' visit to Carrow Road...
City know all about Dwight Gayle from their meeting earlier in the season when his double helped Newcastle to that painful 4-3 win at St James' Park.
It looked like the 26-year-old wasn't going to make the return fixture with a hamstring strain, but Magpies boss Rafa Benitez revealed his star striker is in the squad tonight.
Arguably the sharpest striker in the second tier, Gayle will be a massive threat to the Canaries and his pace is something the City back four are going to have to be wary of, particularly on the counter-attack.
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Gayle has led Newcastle's promotion charge from the front, although in the four games they have been without him recently they picked up 10 points.
In his absence Aleksandar Mitrovic and Daryl Murphy have been given their chance, resulting in a more direct style of play given their physical strengths.
When the teams come through this evening the first name City fans will be looking out for on the opposition team sheet is Gayle. Benitez would be a brave man to leave him out.
No Tettey, no party
Alex Tettey is available after serving a two-match ban for accumulating 10 yellow cards this season.
City boss Alex Neil has said recently he regards the Norwegian as someone who is a certain starter when fit. Given those comments it appears likely that Youssouf Mulumbu will drop to the bench, despite impressing in the 5-1 demolition of Nottingham Forest.
Before his suspension Tettey showed signs of emerging from a general malaise that had affected the majority of the squad. Against arguably the best midfield in the Championship, Norwich are going to need Tettey at his destructive best to keep the Magpies in check.
City's five-star performance has given Alex Neil something of a selection headache.
Facing Newcastle is an entirely different prospect to taking on a Nottingham Forest side who were outclassed from start to finish at the weekend.
Neil fielded a very attack-minded starting XI against Forest, which was justified as his creative lights ran riot in a memorable victory.
Wes Hoolahan and Alex Pritchard were paired in tandem and whether City could accommodate such attacking flair against a side with Newcastle's calibre is open to question. It would definitely be a risk.
Given Neil has said he has a few (unspecified) injury worries ahead of tonight's clash, expect a few changes to be made.
Can City afford not to win?
City's terrible run, which led many fans to call for Alex Neil to lose his job, gave them a considerable hill to scale to make the play-offs.
Defeat at Rotherham looked like it had signalled the end of City's promotion hopes, but four wins in their last five has got some supporters dreaming of Wembley again.
Despite their recent run, Norwich are still on the outside looking in with Sheffield Wednesday occupying the final play-off place, two points above the Canaries with a game in hand.
The ball park points total managers look towards for the play-offs is 75, which means City must take 25 points from their remaining 15 games, including tonight.
That shouldn't be beyond the Canaries and, in truth, there are still enough games to get close to that points total even if Newcastle won this evening.
Whether fans' morale could recover sufficiently given the kicking they've had this season is another matter.
The feel-good factor has returned for Norwich City fans following the recent turnaround and the change in mood was noticeable on Saturday against Nottingham Forest.
It's hard not to smile when you've just watched what fans have since voted as the greatest Carrow Road goal of all time following Jonny Howson's wonderful volley.
Supporters were in fine voice during the 5-1 win but tonight is likely to be a far closer affair.
The Toon Army will also be out in force and the Barclay will be desperate to drown out their rivals in what could be a season-defining evening.
Valentine's Day joy?
The Canaries have played on Valentine's Day on five occasions in the last 20 years – and won both times they've played at home.
In 2015 Alex Neil's team beat Wolves 2-0 in the Championship thanks to goals from Bradley Johnson and Lewis Grabban.
The other February 14 win was in 2006, when Brighton were beaten 3-0 at Carrow Road, with Darren Huckerby opening the scoring and Robert Earnshaw adding two late goals.
There have also been three away games in that period, losing 1-0 at Preston in 2009, winning 2-0 at Coventry in 2004 and drawing 2-2 at Port Vale in 1998.
Can City repeat their Valentine's success at home tonight?