Written by Joe Sharpe
Who doesn’t love the festive football period? There’s plenty of games to distract us from the leftover turkey and small talk with relatives, and a great chance for teams to put points on the board.
It’s been an up-down week for Newcastle. The hard-fought 2-1 win at Burton secured the Christmas number one spot in the Championship, but now they look set to lose Shelvey for five games after he was found guilty to using racially abusive language.
So what can Toon fans expect from their Boxing Day clash with promotion rivals Sheffield Wednesday? We spoke to Connor Thorpe – a Sheffield Wednesday season ticket holder who writes for the72.co.uk and his own blog, connortswfcblog.wordpress.com – to find out:
1: Who are the Sheffield Wednesday danger men?
“It goes without saying that Fernando Forestieri is our most dangerous player. Although he’s had a hit and miss season so far, Wednesday fans were delighted in November when he finally seemed to be getting back to his best, scoring and playing exceptionally well in the games against Fulham and Wolves.
“In typical Forestieri fashion, he then earned himself a ridiculous red card in the game against Preston and has been suspended since. His first game back will be at St James’ Park so if he can pick up from where he left off, Newcastle’s defence will have to be very wary. Even if he’s not at his best the diminutive Italian is capable of producing a moment of magic out of nowhere, which was lacking in our narrow win over Rotherham.
“More of a key player than a “danger man”, Sam Hutchinson is an expert in breaking up opposition attacks. He picked up a knock last week, but if the former Chelsea man is fit expect him to be deployed in front of Wednesday’s back four. Hutchinson is even more pivotal in games against the top teams, as his aggression in the tackle makes our midfield so much more difficult to break down.”
2: How do fans expect Wednesday to do this season?
“I’m expecting us to hopefully hang onto the sixth spot by the skin of our teeth. The top two is out of reach, in my opinion Newcastle and Brighton are in far better shape than the rest of the division and I cannot see anybody else breaking into those automatic promotion spots.
“Apart from that, the Championship is so much more competitive than last season. Teams like Reading, Leeds and Huddersfield were necessarily not expected to be competing at the top end of the league, but they’re up there for a reason.
“However, Wednesday fans can take encouragement from the fact that we are yet to ‘click’ and still find ourselves in the hallowed top six. We seem to have a knack of grinding results out of tight games, and hopefully in the New Year we can really push on and cement a play-off berth.
“This season we have a number of players who are yet to show their finest form. If they manage to perform to the peak of their powers then we could be a consistent force to be reckoned with, because their quality is there for all to see.”
3: What do Wednesday fans think of Newcastle United?
“Our thoughts on Newcastle are probably reflected across the division. The quality that Toon possess is undeniable. When you have players such as Shelvey, Gayle, Ritchie and Clark, there’s only one way you’re going, and that is up.
“I think we have to respect how Benitez has gone about his business as well. Instead of bringing in a squad of Europeans who haven’t experienced the intensity of the Championship, the Spaniard recruited players who have proven themselves in this league, and in some cases, won promotion. That experience of being able to get out of this league is so important in the long run.
“Newcastle have a very passionate fanbase and even after relegation attendances rarely drop below 50,000. That’s something you simply have to respect, and it’s great to see fans who are accustomed to Premier League football, embrace the Championship. “
4: There were rumours over the summer, but could you see Forestieri in a Toon shirt?
“I wish I couldn’t. The Forestieri saga was a worrying period for Wednesday fans, and after he refused to play at Norwich back in August many supporters couldn’t see him donning the blue and white shirt again. The situation was an enigma, because after refusing to play he stated that he never wanted to leave in the first place and it was just a misunderstanding. I suppose we’ll never know what actually happened, but I think if Toon go up and the Owls don’t then we could see a repeat of a similar scenario.
“Undoubtedly Forestieri wants to play in the Premier League, and hopefully he’ll be able to achieve this aspiration as a Wednesday player. But if we’re still a Championship club in the Summer of 2017 and we accept offers from Premier League clubs then I can see him jumping ship, whether that be to Newcastle or not.”
5: What’s your score prediction?
“I expect us to set up with a lot of emphasis on discipline and being difficult to beat, whilst hoping to nick a goal on the counter. It certainly won’t be easy for Toon, but I expect them to sneak a 1-0 victory as their attacking talent will prove just a bit too much for us.”