ALAN Pardew is expecting goals galore tomorrow when Newcastle entertain Manchester United with both sides missing their pre-eminent defenders.
At the other end of the field, however, the hosts will attempt to exploit their opponents' own defensive problems, as Nemanja Vidic and Phil Jones have been ruled out of the trip to the North-East while Jonny Evans is rated as extremely doubtful.
As a result, it should be an afternoon for attacking, and with the last nine matches between Newcastle and Manchester United having produced a total of 28 goals, Pardew is expecting another open encounter.
“Manchester United have had defensive issues – they have injuries in that area – and the same applies to us,” said the Newcastle boss. “We are both not as strong as we could be at the back.
“I'm sure they would want to be stronger defensively than they are. The options Sir Alex (Ferguson) has have been taken away through injury like ours.
“Losing Jones and Vidic is a blow for them, just as losing Colo (Coloccini), Steven and Tim (Krul) is a blow for us. Therefore, the emphasis will be on the attacking players to exploit that situation.
“Because of that, you can't really imagine that it's going to be 0-0. I'm sure Sir Alex will have worked on his back four, as we have, but with both sides having a large number of flair players on the pitch, you can't expect that it will be anything other than an entertaining game. I think it will be.”
Newcastle will be desperate for a repeat of last season's 3-0 win on Tyneside, and it is possible to draw comparisons between the two occasions.
Then, as now, Manchester United were beset with defensive problems and kicked off on the back of a rare league defeat.
Last weekend's 3-2 reverse to Tottenham revealed some glaring deficiencies in the Reds' backline, and after Demba Ba proved all but unplayable in January, there are reasons for Newcastle fans to be optimistic as they contemplate a rare back-to-back double over the most successful English side from the last two decades.
“Last season's win over them was special,” said Pardew. “It's always difficult to beat Manchester United – they only lose a handful of games a season, even less than that. So to win in the style we did was very pleasing.
“Ironically, the scenarios are very similar. We had defensive issues, and so did they. We got the goals and ended up winning the game, but it could have gone the other way, as it always can do against great clubs and teams.
“I think this will be close, but it won't be the first goal that decides it – it will be the last one. I just hope that it will be ours.”
The atmosphere as Newcastle won last season was as good as anything experienced at St James' for a number of years, and with another capacity crowd expected tomorrow, the Geordie faithful could have a significant role to play.
“The venue and the passion from the fans here plays a part, you can't ignore that,” said Pardew. “It's an easy cliché to use for a manager – 'they are our 12th man' – but it does play a part.
“Trust me, when I go to Old Trafford, it's daunting for the opposition. It's the same with the Etihad, the Emirates and our place. At ours, there is probably a bit more electricity about it purely because of the way the city is – it's football mad. That is reflected in the performances of the team.”