Newcastle will be counting their blessings on Sunday: having lost two out of their last three encounters, Alan Pardew’s men will be happy to welcome back Demba Ba, probably the only good piece of news to come out of Senegal’s elimination at the Africa Cup of Nations.
The striker’s arrival couldn’t come a moment too soon, as the Magpies welcome a dangerous Aston Villa side to St James’ Park. Having already defeated Chelsea on the road, Alec McLeish’s men are looking to make Newcastle their second major scalp in a row as they try and climb back into contention for a European spot.
Demba Ba left the Geordie faithful a wonderful parting gift: that goal against Manchester United, which paved the way to a 3-0 humbling not seen around these parts for many a year. Ever since the Senegalese star started scoring for his new club, he has never gone more than three games without hitting the back of the net. At 7/5, he is without a doubt the favourite when it comes to getting his name on the scoresheet.
Ba might have been missed, but it’s not as if Newcastle were struggling for goals in his absence. During his absence, Leon Best showed just how decisive he can be by scoring the winner against QPR: he’s priced at 9/5. Though Shola Ameobi is also worthy of a shout, all eyes should be focussed on Hatem Ben Arfa, who netted two in Ba’s absence. The French starlet seems to have finally found his feet (and avoided injury), and has guaranteed fireworks whenever he’s played.
Though at 9/4 he is miles behind Ameobi (3/2), I feel Hatem Ben Arfa is cleverer when it comes to taking his chances. He will likely have other occasions to get his name on the scoresheet: with Cabaye serving a suspension, he could be an interesting freekick taking alternative, as could be Ryan Taylor (9/2).
Papiss Demba Cisse also warrants attention: a man responsible for 31 goals over the last season-and-a-half, the ex-Friburg man could come on as a sub (as Best is likely to start ahead of him) and net the last goal, an eventuality priced at 11/2. He hasn’t been here three days (he signed when he was in Equatorial Guinea remember), and yet is already, according to bwin’s analysts, the fourth player most likely to get his name on the scoresheet!
What about Villa? For a start, let us dispel any pessimism regarding the Brummies’ performance in front of goal. Having won at Stamford Bridge, they are doubtlessly rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of facing a defence as creaky as Newcastle’s. They are more than capable of confirming their surprise package status, priced as they are at 7/5 to score once, though two goals might be a bridge too far at 17/5.
Darren Bent is an obvious solution. With a fantastic finish against Arsenal- when he rounded the keeper and finished from a tight angle- the England striker demonstrated why he’s still in the running for a starting place with the Three Lions. Newcastle beware, his odds are frightening at 17/10. Gabby Agbonlahor is, unfortunately, an injury doubt, and will have to undergo a special fitness program in order to verify whether he can play on Sunday. It’s a pity, as he and Best were the only players who scored in last year’s draw at Villa Park.
Otherwise, the Villans have two viable options: one is Robbie Keane, a man who so nearly joined the Magpies on various occasions, notoriously during the last two summer transfer windows. His odds might be far more interesting (9/5) than Richard Dunne’s (8/1) and Stephen Ireland’s, but the latter two are not to be underestimated: Dunne is a very good set piece player, whilst Ireland knows how to make a run into the box when he spots a gap. He is priced at 4/1.