Newcastle's resurrection to be complete on Easter Monday
The Fog on the Tyne is lifting and from the huge cantilever stands that span St. James' Park not only can they see the Premier League, they can almost touch it.
The scene is set for a promotion party on Tyneside but Sheffield United still have very faint hopes of sneaking a play-off place and will be hoping that no champagne corks are popped come late Monday evening.
Newcastle's year long sabbatical amongst some of English football's forgotten clubs has nearly come to its conclusion and they're managing to do what other clubs with similarly illustrious pasts Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby couldn't, win promotion at the first time of asking. That hot, balmy day at Villa Park back in May will be consigned to the bad memories scrapbook if they can get the necessary result against the Blades.
In black and white, they need a point.
Chris Hughton's table topping Geordies have all but cemented that 1st place finish after an unbeaten 11 game run that has included 8 victories, a sequence that has seen them power away from the play-off pack.
They've been the model of consistency all season but it has been their imperious home form that has been the basis for accomplished performances on the road. Indeed they are yet to lose on home soil at all. They are the only team in the football league who can boast this fact, with the boisterous Geordie faithful behind their side it's highly likely that this run will continue until the end of the season.
Sheffield United, the city's second team, are still harbouring very faint play-off aspirations but their recent form shows very little that they can actually achieve this. Their away form in particular has been torrid. A paltry 2 draws from their last six forays away from Bramall Lane have put huge dents in their bid for promotion and they'll need to produce something special if they are to stop their season petering out.
Kevin Blackwell's Yorkshire outfit are in the last year of their parachute payments, and all indications are that there will be huge cutbacks for the club. Therefore, one last push at the play-offs could be there only chance to stave off further years in the wilderness of the football league.
The betting for this game is ominous for the visitor's. Newcastle are odds on to win the game at 1/2 while Sheffield United are massive outsiders at 9/2.
Local lad Andy Carroll has been hitting the headlines on and off the pitch for the Toon all season, his knack of scoring important headed goals in the run-in has propelled his team to the brink of promotion. He is priced at 3/1 to open the scoring while his team mates Shola Ameobi (10/3), Peter Lovenkrands (4/1) and Kevin Nolan (6/1) are all well priced to notch first.
United's goals have been spread throughout their team all season and with a plethora of attacking options it could be one of many to get the celebrations rolling.
Sheffield United's attacking options are somewhat more limited. Due to injuries they'll be heavily reliant on the bustling Darius Henderson and veteran forward Richard Cresswell (both 8/1). The last two times that the Blades took the lead in a game it was that man Cresswell who gave them first advantage.
The reverse fixture in South Yorkshire ended with a slender 1-0 victory for the visiting Magpies courtesy of a Chris Morgan own goal. A repeat of that score would see odds of 5/1 in the correct score market. I cannot see the game being so tight this time though. In the same market the home side are 15/2 and 16/1 to win 3-0 and 4-0 respectively.
With Newcastle likely to be roared on by a season-high crowd I can't see past an emphatic victory to really get the party started. Sheffield United's shocking away record of seven defeats and three draws from their last 10 away trips is bad enough but the daunting prospect of trying to bring that run to a halt at St. James' isn't really worth entertaining.
My personal recommendation would be in the match handicap market. Newcastle -2 goals at 10/3 would intrigue me enough to part with my hard earned money.
My other would be for Peter Lovenkrands to score anytime at evens. He is now the usual Newcastle penalty taker and with a strong defence behind him he has licence to attack and run at the opposition.