Newcastle V Aston Villa
Carver targets climb up table
Newcastle head coach John Carver is looking upwards rather than over his shoulder as the Barclays Premier League season enters its final phase.
The Magpies sit in 11th place in the table ahead of Saturday’s home clash with struggling Aston Villa, 10 points clear of the drop zone, but four short of the top 10.
But with Carver in temporary charge following Alan Pardew’s January exit and the FA Cup having come and gone with barely a whimper on Tyneside, disgruntled fans are already writing off the season.
However, the 50-year-old is adamant he will not allow it to peter out as he attempts to secure the job on a permanent basis.
He said: “Listen, I am not giving up on anything. You have got to go for as high as you can. If you don’t do that, you have got no ambition and that’s certainly not the case with regard to the players and myself.
“We want to go for as high up that league as we can and we will endeavour to do that.”
Carver’s players will run out at St James’ Park this weekend with something to prove after last weekend’s 5-0 humiliation at Manchester City, and knowing their opponents are scrapping for survival.
But he is expecting a concerted response to what proved to be a very bad day at the office.
He said: “We have seen it with this team and this group of players that every now and again, we do take a bit of a drubbing. It’s how we react to that. In the past we have reacted really well, and I expect that again.
“Off the back of the result we have just had, if they are not motivated and ready to prove a point and put things right after last weekend, then they shouldn’t be professional footballers.
“I am hoping the result of last week will be enough to make them so determined that we need to win the game.”
Midfielder Jonas Gutierrez could make his first Newcastle appearance since October 2013.
The 31-year-old Argentina international returns to contention following his successful battle against testicular cancer, and is assured of a warm welcome at St James’ Park.
Full-back Daryl Janmaat has recovered from the knock he picked up during the 5-0 defeat at Manchester City, but Cheick Tiote is likely to miss the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery and will join fellow midfielders Siem de Jong (collapsed lung), Remy Cabella (knee) and the suspended Jack Colback, as well as defenders Steven Taylor (Achilles) and Paul Dummett (knee), on the sidelines.
Tim Sherwood has a defensive headache, with Ron Vlaar and Kieran Richardson out of Aston Villa’s trip.
Alan Hutton and Aly Cissokho are also doubts for Sherwood at the back while Philippe Senderos is unlikely to be fit as he battles a calf problem.
Vlaar is suspended after his red card as he conceded a last-minute penalty as Sherwood lost his first game in charge against Stoke 2-1 last week while Richardson limped off with a calf injury.
Sherwood challenged Christian Benteke to fire himself back to form and throw the matchball in his doubters’ faces.
The misfiring striker has scored just three times this season with Villa second bottom of the Barclays Premier League ahead of Saturday’s trip to Newcastle.
Villa are the lowest scoring team in the top flight having hit just 13 goals in 26 games this season.
Benteke has contributed just two of those and Sherwood threw down the gauntlet to the Belgium hitman ahead of their trip to the north-east.
“I want to see him take the matchball with a hat-trick and throw it back in people’s faces,” he said.
“Teams should be scared of him. They’ve got memories like me. I remember him terrorising defenders. We need to get him back to that. He’s only young.
“We don’t want to try to patronise him, we want to try to tell him some home truths, ‘you were one of the best strikers in the country and everybody wanted you, Aston Villa didn’t want to sell you and now we need to get you back to that.’ It’s in there. It’s not a flash in the pan, it’s embedded into him.
“He scores one in two. He’s a prolific goalscorer and we need to help him. The rest of the group need to help him – but we need to find goals from other areas as well.”