NEWCASTLE United’s defenders have had to get used to an unusual feeling in training this week.
All season the back four and goalkeeper Tim Krul have been unchanged in the Premier League, a remarkable achievement in December. But in training this week they have had to get used to some new faces.
Steven Taylor is unlikely to play again this season after rupturing his Achilles against Chelsea, and central defensive partner Fabricio Coloccini is also a major doubt for Saturday’s trip to Norwich City, which now takes on added significance.
Once upon a time such stability would be commonplace, but in an era of often massive squads and regular rotation, it is an oddity to have so many ever-presents at this stage of a campaign, particularly in the same department.
French midfielder Yohan Cabaye is another to have started all 14 Premier League games this term. Fellow defender Danny Simpson admits he has enjoyed the predictability of the top-flight’s most settled defensive unit.
“We have been working as a back five in training, day in and day out working on things,” said the Mancunian, who could face a change of position at Carrow Road. “It’s nice when you don’t have to change things.”
Manager Alan Pardew is playing his cards close to his chest about his plans for the Norwich game, although it seems certain James Perch will deputise for Taylor, despite having played most of his football for the club at full-back.
Replacing captain Coloccini will be more troublesome, with the Magpies’ third senior centre-back, Mike Williamson, recovering from an ankle injury.
Pardew’s options include moving Simpson from right-back into the heart of the defence, something which he did during the Championship-winning season.
Although he has played most of his senior football out wide, either in defence or midfield, Davide Santon could make his full Premier League debut out of position.
Santon’s debut came as a 77th-minute substitute for Simpson during October’s draw with Tottenham Hotspur.
The Italian international’s only start came in the League Cup at Blackburn Rovers, a match in which United shipped four goals, although two were in extra time.
It is only in knockout football that Pardew has broken up his quintet of goalkeeper Tim Krul, Simpson, Taylor, Coloccini and Ryan Taylor. Simpson and Coloccini even played all three games in that competition.
Unlike Simpson, Santon has the advantage of being over six foot tall.
Another clue to Pardew’s thinking came with the news that Hungarian central defender Tamas Kadar has been given the squad number 40.
The 21-year-old arrived with a glowing reputation in 2008, but Pardew appears to have misgivings.
Although injuries have played a part, the left-footer is yet to play first-team football during a managerial reign which enters its second year tomorrow.
All things considered, Newcastle are hoping Coloccini can repeat his miraculous recovery of a fortnight ago.
The Argentinian suffered back spasms in training the day before Newcastle’s recent trip to Manchester United. However, with the aid of injections, he was not only able to play, but brilliantly marshal the back four.
“It was massive for us when Colo was declared fit,” Simpson recalled.
“His composure, his reading of the game and his defending in general, he is a top-class player – It gives you confidence when you have him alongside you.”
Teenage centre-back Jeff Henderson has returned from a loan at Gateshead, but is unlikely to be considered.
Henderson scored the only goal of the game at Ebbsfleet United in the first of eight appearances for the Conference side, two from the bench.
Meanwhile, the Magpies are in action in the FA Youth Cup at home to Darlington tonight.
Visiting fans are being advised to enter via turnstiles 39 and 40, home fans in 44, 45, 46 and 47.
The game kicks off at 7pm.
Admission is £3 adults and £1.50 concessions.