Newcastle United set out to cap a blinding seven days of football with nine points Saturday when they face fellow mid-table side West Ham United at London Stadium.
The Magpies (8-7-13) are in 13th place on 31 points, seven clear of the drop following composed 2-0 victories over Huddersfield Town and Burnley. Tuesday’s home win over the Clarets came courtesy of first-half goals from veteran defender Fabian Schar and young midfielder Sean Longstaff.
Schar let fly with a screamer on 26 minutes, marking Newcastle’s first goal from outside the penalty area on 121 shot attempts. Longstaff, whose rise through the ranks to becoming a must-have midfielder for Rafa Benitez this season has been one of the underheralded positive stories for the Magpies, belied his 21 years with a cool finish in the 38th minute after capitalising on a poor clearance by the Burnley defence.
“We knew we were facing a quality team and that it would be very physical, especially with facing a lot of crosses, but we were ready for it,” keeper Martin Dubravka told the club’s official website after Newcastle United’s fourth straight home win. “I think all of the players did very well and helped me a lot in blocking opponents when I went to catch the crosses. We will always support each other on the pitch and be together as a team, and this needs to be like this for every game.
“I was trying to help my team mates and do what the manager said, especially in dealing with balls into the box although I have to say that the players created a lot of space for myself and made it a lot easier in collecting some difficult balls. I’m happy that we got the win and a clean sheet is a bonus for us and for our confidence too so, hopefully, we can aim to get a good result in London (against West Ham) on Saturday.”
The challenge for Benitez and Newcastle is to take their home form to the road. The Magpies have taken just 12 points from their 13 road matches (2-6-5), totaling 10 goals, and are winless in their last five (0-2-3) outside St James’ Park.
West Ham United (10-6-12) are three spots higher and five points better than Newcastle United heading into this match but are coming off a 1-0 loss to reigning champions Manchester City. Sergio Aguero’s penalty just before the hour put a damper on Manuel Pellegrini’s first match at the Etihad since his departure from City in 2016, but the Chilean took heart in an otherwise stout defensive performance against an imposing side who lead the Premier League with 75 goals.
“We defended well except for the first ten minutes. For the rest of the game, if you review I think Lukasz Fabianski only had one save after the penalty, so I think we defended well,” Pellegrini told West Ham’s official website. “But we didn’t play very well with the ball, but considering we had eight players injured and four players that we rested, of course I cannot be very unhappy with the result.
“I feel that we lost with a penalty that was not a penalty, and in the other box also if (Manuel) Lanzini goes to the floor, maybe he can whistle (there too). “They had other chances after that but I am not happy with the way that we lost the game.”
Pellegrini clearly had an eye on getting a result from this match as striker Chicharito Hernandez and midfielders Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass all sat on the bench as unused substitutes. First-choice striker Marko Arnautovic was dropped due to a late illness, but the Austria international should be available Saturday.
Pellegrini also shaded the substitutions he did make, lifting both Samir Nasri and Felipe Anderson at halftime. The Irons gaffer does have concerns at both wide backs, with left back Aaron Cresswell sidelined with a broken toe and right back Arthur Masuaku a question mark with an undisclosed injury.
Ryan Fredericks and Pablo Zabaleta are the expected understudies, though Pellegrini did hand 19-year-old Ben Johnson a start at right back against City on Tuesday.
West Ham are unbeaten in their last four league matches (2-2-0) at home and have claimed 20 points in their last 11 at London Stadium. The Irons are also seeking their first double over Newcastle since the 1998-99 season after recording a 3-0 victory in the reverse fixture Dec. 1.
Chicharito had a brace with goals on either side of halftime before Anderson added some gloss with a stoppage-time third as West Ham snapped a three-match losing streak to Newcastle. The teams have split 20 all-time Premier League matches on the East End, claiming eight wins apiece and splitting four other matches.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: West Ham United 2, Newcastle United 1.
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