If we'd have been playing Newcastle a month ago, I would've loved it.
Back then they were a club in disarray. No goals, no wins, supporters unhappy and a manager who was the favourite to get the sack. If you played them then you were guaranteed laughs-a-plenty as players smacked themselves into goalposts, missed chances which a four-year-old could score and then trudging off the pitch to a chorus of boos. Oh, those were the days.
Now, sadly, Alain Perrin is the favourite to get the sack. What's more, Newcastle are - along with Chelsea, Arsenal and technically Wigan - the only Premiership teams we've never beaten since promotion. They have a new multi-multi-million pound striker. We've got injuries coming out of our ears and not just small problems - guys like LuaLua who have been central to our team so far. Laurent Robert can't play because he's on loan from the Toon and, as inconsistent as he is, he's played a part in four of our five goals this season. You'd say that we look more in trouble now than we have at any point so far this season. And perhaps it's a sign of the times that now a home match against Newcastle is seen as one we should be winning.
But hang on, this is Pompey. When we're favourites we're usually crap. The opposition have got ten men for over a half? That'll be a draw then. The opposition are bottom of the table and haven't won away all season? They have now. The opposition have got so many injuries that they're playing youth teamers? Those youth teamers are about to get a taste of victory. Meanwhile, when we're so unlikely to win that it's not true (i.e. both games against Manchester United, playing Everton away when they always beat us in a jammy fashion, playing Leeds away when a big win would help them secure their safety) we seem to manage it.
And we're certainly not favourites tomorrow.
On the bright side Amdy Faye is playing for Newcastle so it won't be a complete uphill task. Also, a couple of players who were originally ruled out/seen as massive doubts - O'Neil and Vukic - should both be fit. If Vukic is well enough to get in the starting line-up then that's a massive boost; one of the biggest criticisms lately has been that Diao and Hughes is too defensive a midfield. Obviously there hasn't been much choice due to injuries and whatnot, but chuck Vukic in at the expense of one of them and suddenly it's a different story altogether. He doesn't offer much in terms of tracking back and tackling, and we haven't seen the best of our Serbian play-maker yet, but he's one of the most technically gifted players we've got and the sooner he's in the team the better.
Perhaps one of our biggest problems is dealing with Newcastle's threat. Linvoy and De Zeeuw may not be the best defenders in the whole wide world but one thing they could do very well was man-marking. Linvoy especially has done a good job on the likes of Shearer, Van Nistlerooy and Henry over the years. Meanwhile, our current two centre-backs, Stef and O'Brien, don't seem to go in for that sort of style which has worked so well against Newcastle and their numerous different strikers in the past. They seem to prefer to hold back and let people run at them before making their tackle - and doing that with Michael Owen could be construed as a slight risk. Especially considering how he's hit two goals already in his short spell at St James'. Obviously he doesn't want to be at Newcastle and it was more a case of them being the only club to offer him anything concrete, but his cheesy promise on Sky Sports News of "the one thing I will guarantee you is goals" seems to have been right so far.
So on the one hand you have Michael Owen, scorer of two goals in the month he's been at Newcastle and seemingly turning their season round. On the other hand you have us, who - if Viafara isn't in the starting line-up - will be a team entirely constructed of players without a league goal to their name this season. One of the biggest head-scratchers in pubs before the game will be about our forward line and what exactly we plan to do; Silva and Karadas paired together, perhaps? Silva on his lonesome? Silva with someone else just behind from midfield? And what about Collins Mbesuma? According to Alain he's three or four reserve matches away from being fully match-fit and there's no desire to rush him, but with injuries as they are might he make the bench? And what about Toddy - he didn't play for the reserves in the week and is described by the manager as being 95% fit and at about the same stage as Collins, but will he be back where he has been recently, warming the bench? Questions, questions, questions!
Personally I couldn't care less if they stuck Chalkias up front, as long as someone actually starts to convert the numerous clear-cut opportunities we have every week.
So it's prediction time. A draw against Newcastle is always a good result, although no doubt you have to be winning your home games. And with pressure on the manager, people will be thinking that anything other than a win will condemn him to a slow and painful death. But I'd be more than happy with a good performance and a 1-1, take some positives out of the game before a little international break. Can we get a good result? Of course. Will we? Ask me five minutes before kick off tomorrow when the team is announced and our Greek keeper really IS up front in a Stuart Pearce style of management. I might be a bit less confident.
(And please don't shout "scummer" at Alan Shearer. Whenever we do that to someone they always score and do an ear-cocking celebration afterwards)