Ahead of Tottenham Hotspur's English Premier League match against Newcastle United, I had a chat with the guys behind SBNation's newest EPL blog, Coming Home Newcastle.
Cartilage Free Captain: What was your initial reaction when Chris Hughton was sacked? And when Alan Pardew was hired?
Coming Home Newcastle: We were and are major supporters of Hughton. When he does sign to manage somewhere I'm selfishly hoping that he's in the Championship so that I can continue that support and not have to think of him as a rival. Pardew is winning me over, but let's face it. He had an uphill climb, didn't he? I think we (and the majority of fans) realized that we really shouldn't have any animosity toward the man, Mike Ashley deserved our ire. Even if we end up in the UEFA Europa League, I'll still say that the Hughton sacking was an ill-conceived move, but Pardew is proving week by week that he can handle his appointment.
CFC: With Tiote and Carroll out, who will start in their places and how will Pardew line up his team?
CHN: We'll probably see a striking combination of Shola Ameobi and Leon Best or Peter Lovenkrands (Nile Ranger is currently working his way out of Alan Pardew's dog house). Any of them are capable of scoring, but can be hit or miss at times. As for the midfield, I expect Danny Guthrie to get the start on the right side and for Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan to share the two way duties. This puts the midfield in less of a diamond shape and more of a line across the field.
CFC: Who has been the most pleasant surprise for Newcastle this season?
CHN: Cheik Tiote has to get my vote. He was bought in a transfer window in which everyone expected us to be buying coverage at best. I didn't know much about him when we signed him cheap, but this man is in the Michael Essien mold, and given what we've seen so far, I think he could even be better. We love the way he controls the midfield and his physical presence is extremely valuable. He could learn a thing or two about avoiding yellow cards, but I've not seen him cross the red card line once. His sending off at Stevenedge was entirely bogus. And, though he may be a physical presence, he's certainly no Nigel De Jong, now is he?
CFC: What is your first choice starting XI when everyone, including Hatem Ben Arfa, is healthy?
CHN: Harper; Simpson, Taylor, Coloccini, Enrique; Tiote; Ben Arfa, Barton, Jonas; Carroll, Ameobi
CFC: Where will Newcastle finish this season and how soon will they return to Europe?
CHN: I'm feeling like a top 10 finish is within reach, but let me be clear in saying that anything above relegation will be considered a success. I think that Europe is possible in the next three years. The team has a good nucleus to build on, and a good summer window could have us up there next season. But, I also don't want to put the cart before the horse. Mike Ashley will most certainly be looking to get the money he loaned the club back before we start spending any large amounts of money on transfers.
CFC: Finally, give me a starting XI and a score prediction for this weekend's game.
CHN: Harper; Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Enrique; Guthrie, Barton, Nolan, Jonas; Ameobi, Best
NUFC 1-3 THFC. I think we can win this game, but I don't think we will. I've been calling it a puncher's chance.