COMMENT by Russell Edge
Newcastle welcome Preston to St James’ Park on Monday night knowing that a win will seal automatic promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Rafa Benitez’s side need just three points from their final three games to secure their target of making a return to the top flight, and Monday’s match against Preston is the first chance they have in order to make that target a reality.
However, Preston, who are placed tenth in the Championship, will be no pushovers as they look to spoil the Magpies’ party.
However, the Toon Army can go into this match confident in the knowledge that in both meetings between the two sides this season, Benitez’s men have come out on top, including a 6-0 drubbing in the EFL Cup.
With promotion on the line, here are three things that should be expected from the clash:
Fringe player to star
With Dwight Gayle out of the tie, manager Benitez has to turn to either Daryl Murphy or Aleksandar Mitrovic, and if he allows himself to think back to the beginning of the campaign, he might be tempted to start the Serbian striker.
The 22-year-old – on the fringes of the Newcastle team for most of the season – scored a brace in both fixtures against Preston when these sides met earlier in the season, and Mitrovic will be itching to start again to add to that tally.
The striker has not scored for the Magpies since a 1-0 win over Wolves back in February and he will want to prove to his boss that he has what it takes to be Newcastle’s frontman.
With form against the Lancashire side, it can be expected that Mitrovic will return to the goal trail on Monday night and fire Newcastle into the Premier League.
Things to kick into life in the second half
It is fair to say that both sides have taken a while to get going this season.
Newcastle have scored a huge majority of their goals in the second half, including nearly a quarter of them in the final 15 minutes of the match.
Preston also like to make their fans wait, with over 25% of their strikes coming in the minutes approaching the final whistle.
If you are watching, you can expect to have to wait a while for the real action to start.
Tempers could fray
In the previous two games, the referees have been kept on their toes with 10 yellow cards and a red dished out to the sides.
Under the floodlights of what is likely to be a cauldron of noise at St James’ Park, it could get quite feisty out on the pitch, as Newcastle fight for promotion and Preston look to ruin the party.
Andrew Madley is the man in the middle for this clash, and he could have his work cut out for him on a night where frustrations will rise and tempers could threaten to boil over.
- Football Insider prediction: Newcastle 2 – 0 Preston
In other Newcastle news, Rafa Benitez has said what this man has to do to keep a first team spot.