By Matt Farr
Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez should reinstate Republic of Ireland international goalkeeper Rob Elliot as his No.1 stopper for their upcoming clash with Rotherham on Saturday.
Elliot has been out for much of the season with a knee injury, and has yet to feature for the Magpies first-team. He returned to the matchday squad to face Birmingham in Wednesday’s FA Cup third round replay, but was an unused substitute.
Benitez should make a further six changes to his side, with Paul Dummett, Jamaal Lascelles, Ciaran Clark, Isaac Hayden, Ayoze Perez and Daryl Murphy all returning to the starting line-up.
Matz Sels, Grant Hanley, Achraf Lazaar, Stuart Findlay, Cheick Tiote, Yasin Ben El-Mhanni and Dan Barlaser should all be axed to give Newcastle their best chance of winning on Saturday.
DeAndre Yedlin, Jonjo Shelvey, Matt Ritchie and Yoan Gouffran are the four players that should keep their places.
African trio Chancel Mbemba, Christian Atsu and Mo Diame remain absent due to their international commitments at the Africa Cup of Nations, while several other key first-team players remain sidelined with injury.
Goalscoring duo Dwight Gayle and Aleksandar Mitrovic are both out, as is defensive-midfielder Vurnon Anita, winger Rolando Aarons and defender Jesus Gamez.
In Rob Elliot’s absence, Karl Darlow and Matz Sels have shared the goalkeeping duties this season, but the international stopper’s return leaves Benitez with a decision to make over the No.1 jersey.
Meanwhile, without Jonjo Shelvey at their disposal, Newcastle picked up just two wins from five games, proving how instrumental he is in the midfield.
He made his return from suspension against Birmingham midweek, and is a certainty to retain his place as Newcastle seek to exert their authority against bottom-of-the-table Rotherham.
Due to a lack of other options, Benitez should persist with Ayoze Perez in the No.10 role. The Spaniard has struggled for form this season, netting just six goals throughout the first-half of the campaign.
He has not scored in the Championship since his brace against Ipswich in October, but bagged two assists in their last league outing against Brentford.
Newcastle have had a mixed run in the league of late, with four defeats from their last 10 games, but they face a struggling Rotherham side that have been defeated seven times in their last 10 fixtures, and will clearly be expecting three points to get their Championship title bid back on track.
In other Newcastle team news, the Magpies are considering a loan-to-buy deal for this Premier League ace.