Newcastle v Sheffield United: Magpies can start on a positive note
Andrew Atherley expects a tight match at St James' Park and favours Newcastle as the best bet...
Newcastle v Sheffield United Sunday 21 June, 14:00 Live on Sky Sports Main Event
Positive team news
Off the field, nothing much has changed at Newcastle, with controversial owner Mike Ashley still in charge amid a swirl of takeover talk. A bid of £300m has been accepted from a consortium led by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund but that remains subject to Premier League approval and this week the waters were muddied further by a £350m counter offer from American television executive Henry Mauriss.
Fortunately for manager Steve Bruce, things look clearer on the pitch. He was badly compromised by injuries during the winter but the lockdown period has brought more players back into contention and there will be hopes that the Magpies can climb higher than their current position of 13th.
Goalkeeper Martin Dubravka and defender Ciaran Clark both left matches on crutches shortly before shutdown but have recovered, with Dubravka certain to return as No.1.
Sean and Matty Longstaff have missed warm-up games with minor injuries but are expected to be available along with Andy Carroll, who has been involved in the preps, while January loan signings Danny Rose and Nabil Bentaleb add to Bruce's broader range of options.
Allan Saint-Maximin and Jonjo Shelvey, the scorers in Newcastle's 2-0 win at Bramall Lane in December's reverse fixture, will have key roles again.
Blades failed by non-cutting-edge technology
Sheffield United have had some cause to complain about decisions against them this season and never more so than on their return away to Aston Villa on Wednesday evening after a clear own goal by the hosts did not register on the goalline technology and VAR did not intervene either.
The match ended 0-0, keeping Chris Wilder's team in sixth place, but that latest controversy could prove costly as a win would have moved them above Manchester United into fifth, which will be a Champions League qualification spot if Manchester City's European ban is upheld.
It was no consolation to Wilder but Hawk-Eye later admitted its technology had failed to spot the goal and apologised "unreservedly to the Premier League, Sheffield United and everyone affected by this incident".
Wilder is hopeful both defender Jack O'Connell and midfielder John Fleck will be available after missing the Villa match with minor knocks. O'Connell would replace Jack Robinson if fit, while Sander Berge or John Lundstram could make way for Fleck.
One aspect of this match-up is whether the visitors will be at an advantage or disadvantage having played in midweek. That first competitive match back could give them a sharpness edge over Newcastle or there could be a physical reaction to their exertions after so long off, perhaps compounded by having to travel for the second time in a few days.
Newcastle were showing signs of better form before the shutdown and are unbeaten in their last five home games, albeit with two being against lower-league opponents in the FA Cup and the last three all having been goalless draws.
Scoring has been their big problem at home all season, with just 12 goals in 14 games, and that has made it difficult for them to open a decisive advantage. Bruce's team have won only two out of eight at home when they have conceded (W2 D3 L3).
Sheffield United are a solid away team but they have scoring issues too and their record when scoring on the road is just W4 D6 L0, which raises some doubt about them as match favourites at2.46.
However, they have been hard to shake off in away games and their only two defeats on the road were against the top two, Liverpool and Manchester City (both 2-0).
The scoring stats make this is a hard match to call as the margins look quite tight. Betting against the favourite could be the way to go and the pick is Newcastle off 0 on the Asian handicap at2.40, which is the same as draw no bet.
It is worth noting that Newcastle have lost only one of the 11 home league matches in which their opponents scored nil or one, while the visitors have exceeded that in just three of their 14 away games.
Goals in short supply
The scoring problems for both teams are evident in the goals stats.
Newcastle have had nine out of 14 (64%) under 2.5 goals at home and Sheffield United have had 12 out of 14 (86%) unders on the road. The Blades also lead the Premier League for unders overall with 79% and Newcastle are joint-fourth with 59%.
Under 2.5 goals is the strong favourite at1.58.
Newcastle are the joint-lowest home scorers in the Premier League this season (12) and are yet to score more than twice in any of their 14 league games at St James' Park this season. Sheffield United are7.00 to win 1-0.