By Matt Farr

Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez is expected to make at least two changes to his side for their Boxing Day clash with Sheffield Wednesday.

The main absence for the Magpies is midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, who begins a five-match suspension for using racially abusive language.

Vurnon Anita is expected to start in his place, due to Cheick Tiote’s lack of appearances, and Jack Colback’s eye injury.

In a bid to rotate his squad, Benitez is also expected to make a straight-swap at left-back with Achraf Lazaar coming in for Paul Dummett, before the Moroccan international jets off to the Africa Cup of Nations next month.

With eight clean sheets from 15 games in all competitions, goalkeeper Karl Darlow is likely to stay in between the posts.

Benitez is expected to make just one change to his back-four, with Lazaar coming in for Dummett on the left-hand side. Newcastle have conceded just four goals in their last seven games in the Championship, and therefore, will want to keep their settled defence.

Isaac Hayden has made an excellent start to the season since arriving in the summer, and is expected to chalk up yet another Championship start. The 21-year-old has one goal and three assists from 22 games. He could be joined by Vurnon Anita, who has appeared in 16 league games this term.

The Magpies are expected to field the same attacking quartet as against Burton, with Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie fending off competition from Ayoze Perez and Yoan Gouffran in the wide positions.

Mo Diame, meanwhile, has been impressive as Newcastle’s no.10 this season, contributing five goals and two assists from 20 games in all competitions.

The in-form Dwight Gayle will lead the line once again for Newcastle, having scored 17 goals in 20 games this season. He is currently the Championship’s top goalscorer.

Therefore, there is still no place in the starting XI for Aleksandar Mitrovic, whose lack of game-time this season has left the media speculating over his future at the club.

Newcastle will be looking to extend their lead over Brighton at the top of the Championship on Monday, over a Sheffield Wednesday side looking to tighten their grip on promotion. The Owls are sixth in the league, but could lose their place in the play-offs to Derby with a defeat.

In other Newcastle team news, Magpies fans have seen the funny side as former boss Alan Pardew is sacked by Crystal Palace.