Tyneside expects - but can Swans topple Toon?
BEAUJOLAIS yesterday, champagne tomorrow?
Swansea City hope to send corks popping once more along Wind Street this weekend by spoiling the party on Tyneside.
The history books are against them — Swansea have triumphed only three times at Newcastle United in 18 previous visits down the decades.
And in a sense, Newcastle's current form does not help much either. It is not that the Toon are flying — they have won only one of their last half-a-dozen Premier League games.
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But in the eyes of Michael Laudrup, Newcastle's recent travails are bad news for his Swansea side.
There were some good results elsewhere for Swansea last weekend, with Wigan, Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers all losing while Reading and Norwich played out a stalemate at the Madejski.
Swansea's 1-1 draw at Southampton was OK too, for any point on the road in the top flight is not to be sniffed at for a club whose primary goal is to avoid relegation.
But the scoreline which was not ideal for Swansea was West Ham United's 1-0 win at St James' Park.
"The West Ham result has knocked us back a bit," Newcastle manager Alan Pardew conceded this week.
"Swansea is a big game now. We've put ourselves in a position where we don't want to be in mid-table.
"We want to threaten the top half of the Premier League."
The bar has been lowered somewhat since the start of the season, when Pardew was talking about challenging for a place in the Champions League.
Such lofty ambitions were understandable given that Newcastle surprised everyone last term by finishing fifth in the Premier League.
But so far at least, Pardew's team have been unable to match the standards they set last season during this campaign.
They have managed only three Premier League victories — at home against Spurs, Norwich and West Brom — to date, the same number as their visitors tomorrow.
As a result, Pardew's top-four wannabes are only one point and one place better off than Swansea in mid-table.
The ever-demanding Geordies expect better.
Hence this weekend's mid-table collision has been billed, extraordinarily, as "must-win" by some of the North East.
It is a curious take. Newcastle, after all, will be at the top end of mid-table if they are victorious against Swansea.
If they lose, meantime, they will remain somewhere in mid-table.
Still, that is how the mood is in Newcastle right now, so the Gallowgate will expect to see Swansea swatted aside.
It was the same last December, when Brendan Rodgers's men were branded "flukey" by the Newcastle natives after they had the temerity to battle to a creditable goalless draw.
A similar result would do very nicely for Swansea this time round, for it is worth noting that apart from Sam Allardyce's happy Hammers, the only teams who have beaten Newcastle this season are Chelsea and Manchester United.
And if Swansea are to get something once again, they will have to scrap for it once again.
Rodgers's men soaked up plenty of Newcastle pressure 11 months ago, when Fabricio Coloccini and Demba Ba hit the woodwork and Michel Vorm had a big game in the Swansea goal.
At the other end of the field that day, Newcastle's Tim Krul barely had a save to make.
Laudrup will hope for a more even contest this time around, but Swansea fly north today knowing they will probably have to do their share of defending if they are to stretch their unbeaten run to four matches.
Pardew has demanded more fight from his team after the West Ham setback, when Newcastle old boy Kevin Nolan struck the only goal.
The return of Cheick Tiote after suspension should help on that score.
The Ivory Coast man booted Joe Allen up in the air on more than one occasion in this fixture last season, and his record of 27 yellow cards in 54 Premier League appearances says something about what he brings to the table.
There are other big units Swansea will have to contend with — most notably Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse.
If one of them is not fit or firing, Pardew has Shola Ameobi in reserve.
Newcastle's manager will have had a man at Southampton last weekend, when Rickie Lambert's physical presence gave Swansea plenty of problems.
It is not hard to imagine, therefore, what Newcastle's gameplan might be.
As well as brute force, the Magpies boast plenty of quality.
Ba and Cisse are both capable of spectacular finishes, while Hatem Ben Arfa can open defences on his own. One bit of good news for Swansea is that Yohan Cabaye, another of Newcastle's creators, looks set to miss out through injury.
Ben Arfa complained at one stage early on last season that he wished Newcastle played football more like Swansea.
The Frenchman was out of the side at the time, but he has not grumbled as much since nailing down a place in Pardew's team.
Swansea will need grit and guile if they are to handle Newcastle's various threats, and whether Chico Flores returns is one of various calls which have been on the manager's mind this week.
Laudrup has good options at the back given Garry Monk's strong displays in recent weeks, but Ki Sung-Yueng's hamstring injury means he faces more of a headache in midfield.
Handing Kemy Agustien — if fit — a first start of the league season is one option, the other looks to be dropping Michu back and playing either Itay Shechter or Gateshead's Danny Graham in attack.
They are big decisions for Laudrup, for Swansea must look to impose themselves when possible on opponents who are without defensive rock Coloccini through suspension.
Swansea proved on their last trip to Newcastle that you can get something from a game even when you spend most of your time defending.
But to do it two years in a row may be asking a bit much.