Newcastle United-Tottenham Hotspur Preview
LONDON (SE) - Tottenham Hotspur look to strengthen their claim for a Champions League place as they welcome Newcastle United to White Hart Lane on Saturday afternoon.
Spurs (13-6-6) go into the latest round of matches in fourth place in the Premier League, three points clear of their nearest challengers and only one behind Chelsea for third, and will be looking for a repeat of the result in this fixture last season - when they beat Newcastle 5-0 at the start of February.
Star midfielder Gareth Bale scored a superb goal for Wales in the midweek international break, making it three stunning strikes in three consecutive games for club and country, and Bale's manager couldn't praise his match-winner highly enough.
"He's having a tremendous year, I think he's such an outstanding player all round," said Andre Villas-Boas of Bale, whose winning goal against West Brom last weekend was his 11th of the season - his highest tally in a Premier League campaign . "I think he's really enjoying his football. When players feel good about what they do they're able to express themselves a bit better.
"He is a player we rate very highly and one we are not willing to let go. At the moment we are very fortunate to have him and we think we are going to be able to reach our objectives with him at this level of form. Can we keep him if we reach the Champions League? I think so. This is where most of the clubs want to be and where most of the players want to play."
Newcastle (7-6-12) have won two games on the bounce for the first time this season to move six points clear of the relegation scrap, with their host of new signings playing key roles in both wins - particularly the 3-2 victory over Chelsea last weekend. Handed such a boost, manager Alan Pardew is hopeful of pulling clear of trouble at the foot of the table while also looking to make amends for last season's heavy defeat at the Lane.
"We had three or four tricky days last year and that was one of them," admitted Pardew. "Spurs played very, very well that day; there was a lot of business with Harry perhaps going to England and everything else, and we caught them on that day when it was all coming together for them. This'll be a different scenario. We have got ourselves on the up a little bit and hopefully we can turn the result around."
Villas-Boas' side is unbeaten in its last nine league games and has just one defeat since November. They have conceded only four goals in that span, keeping five clean sheets. Spurs have also allowed the fewest shots on their own goal in the league (221).
Newcastle's win over Aston Villa at the end of January was their only victory away from home all season, while only two teams (Southampton and Villa) have conceded more goals on the road than the Magpies.
Spurs are without Younes Kaboul (knee) and Jermain Defoe (ankle), while Sandro is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Newcastle are without Hatem Ben Arfa (hamstring), Dan Gosling (knee) and Ryan Taylor (knee), while Danny Simpson (broken toe) is doubtful.
Tottenham's win in this fixture last season proved the final high point of their season. In the 13 matches following their rout of the Magpies, Spurs dropped points in nine to give away a 10-point lead over local rivals Arsenal, missing out on third-place, and ultimately losing out on Champions League football.
The Lilywhites have won their last three home matches against Newcastle in the league by a combined score of 8-0. However, the Magpies won 2-1 when these teams met at St James' Park on the opening day of the season. Defoe, Ben Arfa and Demba Ba scored the goals, but none of those players will feature on Saturday.