Newcastle United face Preston North End in The EFL Cup Tuesday night at St. James’ Park looking to extend their 6-game winning streak to a lucky 7 matches and put themselves in with a genuine shot at trophy glory.
Rafa Benitez is the Cup-winning specialist among the world’s greatest bosses and the only manager in history to win The Europa League, The Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA World Club Cup.
Preston North End, of course, have their own special place in football history having been one of the founding clubs of England’s Football League in 1888 though it was in 1938 when The Lilywhites last won a Cup, The FA Cup.
And The Magpies will have to wary of the clear and present threat Preston pose to the North-East club attempting to win its first major trophy since Bob Moncur lifted The Fairs Cup in 1969.
Preston are currently 9th in The EFL Championship after a 6-game unbeaten run of their own culminating in a 1-0 away win at Norwich City on Saturday. Managed by Simon Grayson and directed by former Leeds Chairman Peter Ridsdale, the North-West outfit, are ambitious to restore former glories.
Newcastle will have to be especially on their guard from set-pieces as the Lilywhites have a physically imposing team and carry a real aerial threat. Paul Gallagher is their dead-ball specialist and two of his set-pieces were dispatched in a recent 3-1 win over Huddersfield by Tom Clarke and Alex Baptiste.
In order to combat this threat from set-pieces, Benitez would be wise to turn to the best defensive header of the ball in the Newcastle squad, 6ft 3in Scotland international Grant Hanley.
Hanley was a big summer signing from Blackburn who has mainly been used as late defensive cover by Benitez to see games out as he did away to Rotherham against a late aerial bombardment from Alan Stubbs’ men.
Yet Newcastle may need to start him considering they are potentially playing against 6ft 7 in Danish giant forward Simon Makienok and former Gateshead striker and Middlesborough season ticket-holder Jordan Hugill, who will be looking to make a big impression up on northern turf as he did at the Riverside last season:
Newcastle would do well to note that tomorrow’s referee is Andrew Madley, the brother of notorious official Bobby whose wrong red card and penalty decision against Fabricio Coloccini ultimately meant Newcastle and Sunderland are playing in the wrong divisions this season, and whose own penalty decision against Ciaran Clark for Reading at St. James’ Park earlier this season was harsh with the former Villa man getting the ball first.
Yet he was quick to also rightly award Newcastle free kicks and a penalty so a general ‘Stay on Your Feet’ policy would be wise to cut giving away dangerous free-kicks to a minimum.
“When you are top of the table and you are doing well, you have to be careful,” Benitez explained. “And make sure that you don’t have over-confidence or complacency.
“You can tell the players though, and still sometimes you cannot control everything. They need to be on their toes and they know that if they don’t perform well, someone else will be there.
“So I think this positive competition is the key to keep the momentum and keep the team winning.”
However, as well as being focused defensively, Newcastle will look to turn the screw on a Preston side which was thrashed 5-0 by a Brentford side the black and whites recently took apart in style in front of their home fans.
Benitez has promised fresh legs and different faces so the likelihood of Aleksandar Mitrovic – a second half substitute on Saturday – or Daryl Murphy starting is high and Jesus Gamez or Cheick Tiote could come into the fold.
Whatever team is put out, Newcastle will be hoping to ensure they are in the hat for a potentially mouth-watering tie against one of the other big boys in The EFL Quarter-Final.