Newcastle United are clearly the team to beat in the Sky Bet Championship this season, and after faltering in the first few weeks of the season, have put together sensational form that has seen them rise all the way to the top of the table - although tonight's mission from The Magpies is to return there after Brighton & Hove Albion's victory at Blackburn Rovers took them above Newcastle in the table.
A blip at home to Blackburn Rovers followed by a bizarre defeat at the City Ground against Nottingham Forest, where they were reduced to nine men (both red card rescinded in the days that followed the game) may have pointed to the fact the Magpies had lost their way, especially as they were knocked out of the EFL Cup by Hull City as well.
However, a thumping 4-0 win at home to Birmingham City last weekend put those stories to bed, and they arrive at the DW in confident mood backed as ever by a vociferous sold-out away end.
In Dwight Gayle they have the league’s top scorer on a sensational run of 16 goals in 16 games in the Championship so far this season – he is the obvious danger man.
Dwight Gayle – striker on a hot streak
Warren Joyce revealed that Reece Burke would definitely miss out against the Magpies after he came off at half time in the game at Villa Park with a recurrence of the hip problem that has troubled him this season.
Better news surrounds Nathan Byrne, who has been training again after missing the Derby and Villa games and could be in contention for a place on the bench at least.
Nathan Byrne – could make a return
For Newcastle, Ayoze Perez is fit again after missing the Birmingham win through illness but midfielder Jack Colback has an eye problem which is still troubling him.
Latics fans will be eager to see whether former favourite Mohamed Diame plays. The Senegal international spent three seasons at the DW Stadium between 2009 and 2012, playing over 100 times for the club in all competitions.
He has been in and out of the starting eleven this season but has featured in most games so should be seen at some stage in what would only be his second return to the DW Stadium since leaving, having played for West Ha United in October 2012.
Mohamed Diame – The Senegalese midfielder should receive a warm welcome from his former supporters
SEASON SO FAR
Having come down from the Barclays Premier League, Newcastle’s biggest transfer target of the summer came in the shape of manager Rafael Benitez, who agreed to stay despite not managing to prevent the club sliding into the Sky Bet Championship after arriving in March.
The stability of not losing their manager along with their Premier League status, and then supplementing their squad with players of genuine top flight pedigree and proven Championship performers, has proved to be a thrilling mix and after taking a few games to get in their stride, a run of six consecutive victories followed by another of eight consecutive victories has sent shock waves through the division.
However, there are clearly vulnerabilities to go with the undoubted firepower, as has been demonstrated by St James Park victories for Huddersfield Town, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers.
Ominously, though, they have only lost twice away all season, on the opening day at Fulham and in that bizarre affair in Nottingham.
Newcastle United famously knocked Lancashire Combination out of the FA Cup in 1954 after an heroic draw at St James’ Park was followed by a 3-2 victory at Springfield Park, but the two sides didn’t meet again until Latics were promoted to the Premiership in 2005.
Latics then enjoyed a great run whereby they defeated the Magpies at the JJB/DW six times out of seven, with only a 1-0 reverse in 2011 denting that record. Latics also beat Newcastle on their way to the League Cup Final in 2006.
Ryan Taylor, dead ball expert whose career at both clubs was blighted by injuries
Ryan Taylor made such a habit of scoring free-kicks against Newcastle that they eventually bought him in 2009 – and he built a reputation for scoring great free-kicks for the Magpies in what was an injury disrupted career with both Latics and United. Imagine how many more he could have scored had he not been blighted by a succession of serious injuries.
Unfortunately, Latics’ record at St James Park is not as healthy, with just two draws from those seven league visits.