The Newcastle manager, Joe Kinnear, is having to think creatively as he tries to put together a patched-up midfield for the Premier League trip to Portsmouth. The injury-hit Magpies head for Fratton Park on Sunday on the back of four successive draws, hovering just above the relegation zone.
The Magpies had led 2-0 at the break against Stoke on Saturday but Danny Guthrie's premature departure through injury contributed to a second-half collapse and added to a growing list of midfield casualties. Guthrie, who damaged a hip, remains a doubt for the Pompey trip along with hamstring victim Nicky Butt and Damien Duff, who has a groin problem. Joey Barton, Alan Smith and Ignacio Gonzalez are on the long-term casualty list.
But the 61-year-old, who ended up with winger Jonas Gutierrez and central defender Claudio Cacapa in the middle of midfield at the end of Saturday's game, is remaining upbeat.
He said: "Things have been going very well, despite the injuries. And I have been forced to play people out of position in the middle. Guthrie hasn't trained for the last two days, and then you have Nicky Butt and Damien Duff – we will see by Friday if they can play. None of them has trained yet this week. Throw in the fact that Joey Barton is going to be out for six to eight weeks, and you have almost a first-choice midfield all out."
One solution to the midfield conundrum would be to adopt the approach taken by Kevin Keegan last season in fielding a three-pronged strike force in which Michael Owen, Mark Viduka and Obafemi Martins all scored goals. Kinnear said: "We could go more offensive. But we only have Oba and Michael in attack who are totally fit. Mark has only played two 20-minute shifts and is not yet at his sharpest."