Newcastle United return to St James' Park on Saturday night as Fulham visit the North East looking to put some distance between themselves and the relegation zone.

It’s hard to tell which Newcastle side will turn up when kick-off arrives, with the Geordies having won three and lost three of their last six league games in contrasting performances.

Morale-boosting wins over Everton, Crystal Palace and West Brom have been paired with damaging defeats against Southampton and Chelsea, while they were soundly beaten 5-2 by Leeds United in midweek.

Meanwhile, Fulham have shown improvement in their last four games, taking five points as Scott Parker’s squad shows signs of gelling ahead of a tight relegation battle.

Once upon a time, Parker plied his trade as a player at Newcastle and will be making his first visit to St James’ Park as a boss, and will have former Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic to try and grind out a result with. Mitrovic has lost his place in the Fulham team in recent weeks though, with Ivan Cavaleiro leading the line instead.

Newcastle’s current crop of strikers have been led by the impressive Callum Wilson this season. The former Bournemouth man already has seven goals to his name this year, one more than Newcastle’s top scorer from last season managed.

That player was Jonjo Shelvey, who may return to the starting lineup after being an unused substitute in the defeat to Leeds on Wednesday.

Shelvey’s influence will be important if Newcastle are to keep the ball more than they have been recently. The Geordies have the lowest average possession of any Premier League team, and have never had more than 48% of the ball in any league game so far this season.

As far as team news goes, Steve Bruce’s defensive ranks are still recovering from the worst of their recent COVID outbreaks. Newcastle only had one fit centre-back against West Brom, but welcomed back Federico Fernandez against Leeds. Jamaal Lascelles, Fabian Schar and Javi Manquillo all missed the loss and are likely to continue their spell on the sidelines when Fulham visit.

Martin Dubravka was scheduled to be back from an ankle injury recently but hasn’t been part of a squad yet, so Karl Darlow will continue in goal, while Paul Dummett is another one missing for a longer period. Allan Saint-Maximin has missed three games with a calf injury but could make the squad.

Fulham have a smaller injury quota to deal with, with only Terence Kongolo definitely out. Bobby Reid came off during the draw with Brighton with a knock and will be assessed, while Kenny Tete is also a doubt as he continues to build match fitness after injury.

A win for Newcastle would put more daylight between themselves and the bottom five, and could move them to the brink of the top ten if other results favour them, while Fulham will be hoping to go above Brighton before they play on Sunday.

Newcastle United take on Fulham at St James’ Park on Saturday, 19th of December. Kick-off is at 8pm.

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