Blackburn v Newcastle | Tuesday 15th January 2019, 19:45 | BT Sport
Since being famous top flight title contenders in the mid-1990s, Blackburn and Newcastle have experienced major declines due to chronic off-field mismanagement.
In Tony Mowbray and Rafa Benitez respectively, at least, they have managers who, under improved circumstances, could bring the good times back.
The two fallen giants meet at Ewood Park on Tuesday night, in a bid to reach the FA Cup Fourth Round.
Consolidation for Rovers
Blackburn Rovers are having a solid first season at Championship level.
Having won promotion from League One at the first attempt, stabilisation is the name of the game, especially while off-field issues mean a modest budget at this level.
Tony Mowbray has been gleaming with praise for Bradley Dack, an “effervescent character” who is tremendously talented but also works hard and puts the extra hours in on the training ground; the attacking midfielder has scored 10 goals this season, with four assists.
Dack though was not the star of the show in last week’s 2-0 win at Millwall; after an uninspiring, goalless first half, Dack was one of the players withdrawn in the second period as Mowbray switched to a 4-3-3 and his substitutions were pivotal.
Substitute Danny Graham, a very industrious front-man, occupied centre-backs in a way that allowed wide forwards like Joe Nuttall and another substitute, Adam Armstrong, to play slightly more off the cuff and pick up pockets of space between the lines.
The front trio were supported by a midfield trio of Elliott Bennett, Lewis Travis and Harrison Reed, which provided a welcome blend of selflessness, tenacity and dynamism; academy graduate Travis is making a real name for himself.
Newcastle on hold
Everything about Newcastle right now feels on hold.
Since they were promoted back to the Premier League in 2017, there has been a clear lack of investment in the playing squad, at least relative to the income provided and the spending of other teams, even outside the elite.
They have left themselves in a situation where, going to Chelsea, their best left wing-back option is Matt Ritchie, whose best work has come in the Championship when drifting in from a wide midfield position.
Sean Longstaff acquitted himself well next to Isaac Hayden and, considering that his previous league start had come in a 1-0 loss at Rotherham while on loan at Blackpool, the athletic midfielder with an eye for goal adjusted to the level admirably.
However, it was a massive ask for him to compete with the likes of Kante and Jorginho before he’d proved himself in the Championship or in a slightly lower-profile Premier League game.
The way Newcastle defended, there was at times a reluctance to close down the opposition which we did not see from Southampton, when they went to Stamford Bridge on New Years’ Day.
When the Toon have the money to strengthen the squad, they will have not only more quality, but perhaps also the belief to impose their game on more teams.
Until then, they will have the feel of a club that is holding something back, on and off the field.
The Tactics Board
Tony Mowbray is expected to name a strong side for Tuesday’s clash.
Most of the eleven that finished the Millwall game are likely to start and the supremely-talented Armstrong, if selected, will surely raise his game against his boyhood club in order to show them what they are missing.
We can expect a high-intensity start from Rovers, who could pin a rotated Newcastle side into their defensive third.
Salomon Rondon gets through so much work in league games that he might be handed a rest ahead of Saturday’s crucial clash with Cardiff, so Joselu could start up top.
The Spaniard could do with the match fitness but he is not as strong at running the channels as Rondon.
If Jacob Murphy and Kenedy, who are likely to start out wide, spend a lot of time tracking the forward forays of Ryan Nyambe and Amari’i Bell, then there is a danger that Joselu might not get the support he needs.
The Betting Angle
Blackburn are 14 points clear of the relegation zone and need, effectively, just 13 points from their final 19 league games to rubber-stamp survival.
Equally, they are unlikely to possess the quality to close the gap on sixth-placed Derby in that period.
For that reason, they will see this FA Cup competition as a final chance to make memories from their season.
With a winnable Fourth Round date with Watford being reward for the victors, there is a real opportunity for them to enjoy a run that might help ease their financial issues and further restore pride in the club and town.
Newcastle fans would love a cup run but, with a squad that has already been stretched to the limit and their Premier League status in peril, Benitez might be under pressure from above to manage his priorities.
Blackburn, therefore, are the most appealing team to back.