Leighton James column: Beware the roar of St James' Park
GARRY Monk has really surprised me lately — and deserves to keep his place at Newcastle ahead of Chico Flores.
I must admit I had reservations when Monk came on for Flores during the second half of Swansea City’s Capital One Cup win at Liverpool a fortnight ago.
There were question marks in my mind about whether he could still cut it at the top level, especially after playing so little this season.
But Swansea’s club captain certainly proved me wrong.
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He was excellent in that game and has been superb in draws against Chelsea and Southampton.
Flores may be in contention to feature at St James’ Park after recovering from injury.
But I would stick with Monk.
Swansea are likely to come under regular attacks from the air on Saturday and I think Monk will stand up better to that challenge.
Flores was starting to adapt to life in the Premier League before pulling his hamstring.
But I still think he lacks a bit of physical presence and composure.
Picking Kemy Agustien against Newcastle instead of the injured Ki Sung-Yueng is an absolute no-brainer.
It’s the closest thing Michael Laudrup has to a like-for-like change available to him, and Swansea should be looking for continuity after a run of good results.
Ki has been excellent since he arrived from Celtic.
He has quickly shown his class so will be missed in the North East.
But I have always been a fan of Agustien’s.
He will be a strong, strapping presence in Swansea’s midfield.
What Swansea will lose in Ki’s attacking talent they will make up for in the Dutchman’s work-rate and solidity.
Another option open to Laudrup would be to recall Danny Graham up front and drop Michu back into midfield.
Graham has found first-team opportunities difficult to come by of late and may feel a little hard done by, but that’s the reality of professional football.
Michu has been excellent all season and doesn’t seem to have been hampered by switching to a more forward role. Graham will just have to be patient.
Selecting him this weekend could disrupt the balance of the team, and after a run of three games unbeaten, the less upheaval the better.
The only other selection issue is over whether to recall Nathan Dyer to the starting line-up.
Dyer came off the bench to score an excellent goal against Southampton as Swansea rescued a point.
But I would still stick with Wayne Routledge and Pablo Hernandez this weekend.
As a winger, I always aimed to take my goal tally into double figures.
Goals were always seen as a bonus, though. A winger’s real job is to provide for others and I don’t think Dyer does that well enough.
His final ball simply isn’t up to it most of the time.
At the end of the season I feel Swansea may look back on the point they earned at Southampton as vital.
It maintains their own momentum and, crucially, keeps a healthy eight-point gap between them and the Saints.
Judging by how poorly the bottom three have started the season, as few as 34 points could be enough to survive this year.
Swansea are already nearly a third of the way towards that total so things are looking good.
BEWARE THE CROWD AT ST JAMES'PARK
NEWCASTLE United are probably the biggest underachievers in British football.
For a club of their size and support to have not won the league since 1927 is staggering.
I always enjoyed playing at St James’ Park because it really does have a special feel.
It is one of the few grounds in the country that still retains a genuinely intimidating atmosphere.
Moving to new stadiums has seen clubs lose a lot of the passion from the stands.
The Liberty is one of the livelier on matchdays.
But it can never compare to the noise created at the Vetch — that could be a real bear pit.
On its day, St James’ is just as ferocious.
It is easy to get overwhelmed in an environment like that.
And I don’t mind admitting that’s happened to me before.
Any professional footballer who tells you they have never let a raucous atmosphere affect them is lying.
When home fans are singing, or worse, get on your back, football can become very difficult.
You freeze. The simplest of touches become difficult and you start to doubt yourself.
Sometimes even the thought of going to an infamous venue is enough to give you the jitters. Then afterwards you wonder what all the fuss was about.
After a while you learn to cope by shutting the crowd out.
But there are plenty who can’t do that — and they don’t last long.
We call them one-season wonders.