After last nights 1-1 at Vicarage Road, its now 6 points and a lotta goals to make up. The race is on, there's no room for any half-measures, especially in home games - we have to attack and go for maximum points. Well, that's only my opinion 'cause now the important job is down to Pards.
So what team is he going to put out? Perhaps we should expect the same team that played so well against manure 2 weeks ago: Carson; Sankofa, Thatcher, Diawara, Bougherra; Rommedahl, Song, Holland, Faye, Ambrose; M Bent. But El Karkouri was suspensed that day and Hreidarsson was out injured as well and as we've all been told we can now add little Bent and Young to the squad as they are now fit to play.
And despite what we say, it will depend on whether or not Pardew sees it as a game that must be won or a game that cannot be lost. Is he going to worry about what team the returning Curbs names or will he be set on inflicting as much hardship on his former employer as possible no matter who plays? Anyway, here's a selection of ideas as to who will be out in red on Saturday.
Pards' first three have to be: Carson, little Bent and Holland. Scotty because he's our best keeper, Darren because he's our leading goalscorer - at last back after missing 7 games ( and returning as captain, one assumes) - and Matty H is playing too well, inspiring everyone, as highlighted by addicktednet player of the month poll for December.
Next down must be Thatcher, Song, Rommedahl. Thatch because he's been playing so well that we've almost forgotten Traore ( and of course for "winning" third spot in the guardianoscars awards for tosspot of the year - come on, he deserves better ) , ditto for Song, Pards' view - "you could have put him in a Manchester United shirt and you wouldn't have noticed any difference. I thought he was terrific". And, of course, the ubiquitous Dennis, because, one day - one fine day - he's going to forget he's not playing for Denmark and at last going to produce something.
So that's six in, we need 5 more but now it begins to get a bit difficult. Two of our starters against manure, Bougherra and Faye, were injured during the game, and although Faye only lasted 40 minutes and Magic managed to finish the game, all we are told is that everyones' fit, but with no mention of the little old irish fella.
Anyway, despite the apparent return to fitness of Luke Young, Osei Sankofa continues to impress at right-back and with the added experience of marking Ryan Gibbs last time out could well keep his place. After missing his first Premiership game all season at Old Trafford, El Karkouri will return at centre-back after his suspension and Marcus Bent will be rewarded for his efforts as stand-in for Darren during his lay-off by playing the second-striker in our return to a 4-4-2 line-up.
So two places left, centre-back and midfield. At centre-back the two realistic candidates are Hreidarsson and Bougherra, both recovering from an injury. With Hermann H playing a full 90 minutes every time he's been available to Pardew, it'll be a surprise if he doesn't return, but then life's full of surprises isn't it.
With the continued lamentable and enforced absence of our one-decent creative force Andy Reid, as much forced from the management as his injury, after his premature return last time, the one midfield slot is between Faye, Zheng, Ambrose and Thomas. It all depends if Pardew wants width and goes with either Thomas or Ambrose on the left, or sees a need to strengthen midfield with either Faye or ZiZi. Thomas has started 3 of the last four games but then there was no Darren B available and in all those games we had 5 players in midfield. He'd now be a brave man to play 4-4-2 and also include 2 wide men in such a vital game. So I expect him to play Amady Faye to tighten up the midfield where Song, Faye and Holland has a nice ring to it.
Sub: Randolph, Bougherra, Thomas, Ambrose, Lisbie