Date: 6th January 2017 at 12:57pm
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Confidence isn’t something that Birmingham City have in abundance currently and being drawn against Newcastle United has certainly added a damp atmosphere this week in the FA Cup. Usually this competition is loved by Blues’ fans. It epitomises everything that we love about football but the buzz just hasn’t been there this week after results haven’t gone our way recently and the opposition are flying.

But they can be beaten as shown by Blackburn Rovers who have beaten Newcastle twice in the league; both home and away so they are not invincible but it has to be said, our defence really have to be on their metal. It will be a backs to the wall job and our defence will have to remain solid for the whole 90 minutes if we are looking to get anything from the game. The main reason for this is that they have a plethora of options in the attacking third. Hayden and Shelvey (who serves a 5 match ban for abuse) are brilliant passers of the ball and can pick out their wingers with pinpoint accuracy or just let Diame run and shoot from any distance. Yes, all of this movement will be tough for us to cope with but it is their front man that we need to watch like a hawk. Dwight Gayle is his name and he is the one to watch this week.

He is the top goalscorer in the Championship with 19 goals in all competitions (21 starts) and so it goes with out saying that if we give him a yard of space, then he can punish us as we found out the last time we played Newcastle. Gayle is fast, don’t get me wrong, but it is his change of direction that really bamboozles defenders. He can create that little bit of room for himself inside of the box by shifting his body weight and therefore has time to pick his spot. There isn’t a better finisher in our league at the moment.

I must just add that he may not play. The FA cup especially just after the hectic Christmas period calls for squad rotation and with Gayle being such a key man for them in their push for promotion, they may decide to rest him. If this is the case, then it is only good news for the Blues’ because he is such a major threat for them.

In recent weeks he has also matured. I think this is because Benitez has put a lot of trust in him to be the main striker and the main man at the club and he has taken this responsibility on. When he played for Palace he often dived into tackles to try and help his team and this led to him being booked or even sent off. But I think that was because he was trying to impress Pardew and show to him that he was worthy of a starting place. Now he is assured of that, he seems to be calmer and works hard for the team without this boiling into aggression.

The thing that he does lack is aerial ability. His movement may get himself space for the header but often the quality of the header is poor and should be easy for the goalkeeper to stop. Having said this, Newcastle do have a tendency when they’re in wide positions to play the ball low which is what Gayle thrives off and he can stick a boot out and guide the ball into the goal. So we do need to be wary of playing out wide and watching runners come in.

Overall, there is no illusion that we won’t park the bus. I am sure that we will. It will be interesting to see what changes though if we go a goal down. That will really test Zola’s ability as a coach to adapt to situations during a game. We shall see but it will show to us what Zola is really made of.

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