AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to get back to winning ways when they entertain Premier League rivals Newcastle United on Wednesday (6pm kick-off).
Despite being knocked out of the FA Cup on Sunday, Steve Bruce’s team have maintained their fine form in the Premier League since returning for the restart.
Newcastle produced one of the most impressive displays of the initial round of games when they triumphed 3-0 against ten-man Sheffield United at St James’ Park.
Second-half goals from Allan Saint-Maximin, Matt Ritchie and Joelinton sunk the Blades before Dwight Gayle’s first Premier League goal for 773 days earned them a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa.
Former Cherries favourite Ritchie succumbed to a hamstring injury against Villa and missed the 2-0 defeat by Manchester City which saw them book a place in the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
afcb.co.uk: Summarise Newcastle’s first two Premier League games since the season restarted – a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa and a 3-0 win over Sheffield United, both at St James’ Park?
CW: They have been very hit and miss. They started both games very poorly, they were quite slow and didn’t create much in the early stages.
But even before Sheffield United had a man sent off just after half-time, they had taken control of the game and it was probably their best all-round display all season, certainly at home.
They looked far more threatening in the second half and part of the reason behind that is that Steve Bruce, in the past few matches, has switched from playing what was essentially a 5-4-1/5-2-2-1 formation to playing 4-2-3-1.
They have looked quite solid defensively with that formation but, even more so, they have really improved in attack.
Allan Saint-Maximin has been the key to that. He was the driving force against Sheffield United and the best player in the second half against Aston Villa. There was a Maradona turn and a nice ball down the line which was probably the highlight of the game.
In general, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. There have been parts of games where Newcastle have been very poor but, in an offensive sense, they have probably played some of their best football of the season so far and that’s primarily been down to Saint-Maximin.
afcb.co.uk: What has the mood among supporters been like in view of the recent takeover talk?
CW: There was initial optimism and excitement at the potential that Mike Ashley would be leaving the club because supporters have craved that moment for a long while and that remains.
But there is also now weariness with the whole saga. It’s been with the Premier League for about 11 weeks now and we’re still awaiting an answer.
That has got a lot of fans nervous that it may not happen and, if it does eventually get ratified, then it will be a feeling almost more of relief than excitement. There is genuine optimism that a new era could be just around the corner and Newcastle fans are really hoping and praying for that.
For the players and Steve Bruce to have come back and got four points after the restart despite all of the uncertainty that’s been hovering over the club has been testament to them and the staff because it has been a huge distraction.
afcb.co.uk: Did lockdown benefit Newcastle with regards to any injured players now being fit?
CW: Yes, lockdown did benefit Newcastle’s injured players. For a start, goalkeeper Martin Dubravka was set to miss a large part of the rest of the season, if not all of it, after being injured against Southampton the game before lockdown.
He has started every Premier League game since he made his debut in February 2018 and is back fit now.
Although he was partly at fault for the goal against Aston Villa, he has been huge for Newcastle and has saved them a lot of points so it’s very important for them that he’s back fit.
Andy Carroll had a niggling hip injury for a couple of months but came off the bench against Aston Villa and got an assist.
Sean and Matt Longstaff have had little niggles but both featured against Manchester City in the FA Cup.
afcb.co.uk: Who has been Newcastle’s standout performer this season?
CW: We did a feature for The Athletic during lockdown on who our player of the season would be and I opted for Dubravka. I would also say Saint-Maximin is going to be the most important player going forward, given that Newcastle look devoid of attacking ideas without him.
He’s looked lean, interested and fit since he’s come back after the restart. We saw glimpses that he was starting to be more effective rather than just exciting when he scored the winner at Southampton just before lockdown. We’ve seen a lot more of that in the past two games.
afcb.co.uk: What can you tell us about Matt Ritchie’s injury and his chances of facing the Cherries?
CW: Matt went off with a hamstring injury against Aston Villa and, as Bournemouth fans will know, he’s not someone who goes off unless he has a problem.
Bruce has said he hasn’t trained over the past day or so and it looks like he will have fitness tests leading up to the game.
I don’t think it’s entirely beyond the realms of possibility that he will be available but he is touch and go. It would be a blow to Newcastle if he doesn’t make it because he’s the driving force to the team.
afcb.co.uk: Apart from Ritchie, do Newcastle have any players either injured or suspension against the Cherries?
CW: Isaac Hayden will be a doubt. He went off with a muscular injury against Aston Villa.
Sean and Matt Longstaff haven’t played either of the two games since restart although they are back in training. They will probably be available but are slight doubts.
Ciaran Clark has just come back from injury as has Florian Lejeune. They are the main players who Newcastle could be missing.
In general, they are in reasonable shape, certainly with their frontline. They’ve got most of their attackers and defenders available, there are just a couple of question marks in midfield.
afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?
CW: Newcastle haven’t been conceding many goals and I don’t expect there to be a lot of goals. I’m going to go for a 1-1 draw.
You can follow Chris on Twitter – @ChrisDHWaugh
Match officials: Kevin Friend (referee), Simon Beck (assistant), Dan Robathan (assistant), Tim Robinson (fourth official), Paul Tierney (VAR), Stephen Child (assistant VAR), John Flynn (replacement official).