When Newcastle United host West Ham United at St James’ Park on Sunday, most of the main protagonists probably won’t know which way to turn in this footballing edition of Friends Reunited.
Not only do we have two managers who have been sacked by the opposition club, but we have two big-time players returning to their old stomping ground amid a mixture of resentment and longing.
If we take the visitors first, Sam Allardyce comes back to the club that fired him nearly five years ago after an underwhelming spell that saw dodgy (although not woeful) results, but did produce the typically antiquated and agricultural – okay, long ball – football that the Toon Army never wanted and never took to.
But Allardyce has been back before with Blackburn (and won) and of much more interest is the return of his captain and main centre forward. Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll were vital components of the Chris Hughton-led side that won the Championship title for Newcastle and both face their former club with different points to prove.
Both were forced out of the club, but in different circumstances: Nolan to strip the wage bill and get rid of a figure that was getting too big for the dressing room, while Carroll was sent packing for £35 million after half a good season in the top flight and you can’t really blame owner Mike Ashley for seeing Liverpool coming and having them off.
But with Alan Pardew making no secret of his desire to get Carroll back at St James’, it will be a strange day for ‘Big Andy’, who probably never really wanted to leave for Liverpool in the first place and would jump at the chance to go back to his hometown club.
His replacement, Demba Ba, is a former Hammer and, of course, Pardew welcomes the club with whom he had an eventful three-year spell,winning promotion in spite of his unpopularity, before having a storming season back in the Premier League and reaching the FA Cup final, losing on penalties to a Steven Gerrard-inspired Liverpool.
He was sacked just six months later with West Ham suffering from second-season syndrome and it looked as though his crack at the big time had passed him by when relegation with Charlton was followed by the sack at League One Southampton.
But Ashley rescued him from the wilderness and the rest, as they say, is history. And when all these paths cross again on Sunday, I think it will be Pardew who is smiling at the end of the 90 minutes.
Newcastle are 19/20 to win, with the draw at 12/5 and West Ham quoted at 14/5, and for the second home game in succession, I think the Magpies are very well priced.
Pardew’s side were the same price to beat West Brom at home a fortnight ago and even though it took a last-minute deflected Papiss Cisse strike to secure three points they probably didn’t deserve, the bet copped and I see the same happening here.
West Brom are better than West Ham, so to see Newcastle at the same price to beat both is a pleasant surprise and one I’m getting involved in. I’ve written at length that the Toon have not played as well this year as they did last term so I won’t bore everybody with that again, but despite that they remain very hard to beat and their home form is impressive.
Newcastle’s only defeat at St James’ Park this year was to Manchester United (their only other loss in 2012 was to Manchester City) and they have won six of their eight games at home this season in all competitions – a very strong record – so I think West Ham will find it a struggle.
The Hammers were better away from home in the Championship last year than they were at Upton Park, when pressure seemed to adversely affect the players, but that trend seems to have reversed. West Ham have picked up one away win, beating Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road, but they have lost at Swansea and Wigan as well as drawing with Norwich.
None of those games fall into the category of really tough away days and it could be that the Irons struggle on the road. Historically, they have done: West Ham have won just six of their last 50 away games in the Premier League and it would be no surprise to see that happen again this year.
As such, I think Newcastle, despite their relative struggles after Thursday night Europa League engagement, will have too much and I’m happy to take that 19/20.