In the middle of the hectic festive football period, Newcastle host reigning Premier League champions Manchester United as they try and cling on to their top seven position in the league table. Recent form hasn’t been brilliant for Alan Pardew’s men and a disappointing result against Liverpool last time out ensures the Magpies won’t be looking forward to Fergie’s side coming to Tyneside, especially considering their excellent record at SJP. Newcastle last tasted a home win over the Red Devils in the 2001/02 season when they edged a 7-goal thriller, a Wes Brown own goal proving the final nail in United’s coffin. Since then it’s been a largely Rooney-inspired side that have enjoyed comfortable success over the Geordies, including a couple of stunning goals from Fergie’s number 10, as well as some big score lines. However, Man Utd haven’t been in anything like intimidating form of late, after basement boys Blackburn somehow overturned them on their own patch last week, running out 3-2 winners at Old Trafford. Even before their demise against Rovers, United hadn’t been pulling up roots with their performances, aside from successive 5-0 wins over Wigan and Fulham. In those games the now in favour Dimitar Berbatov has been finding the net with alarming regularity, netting six in his last three games. Alex Ferguson has had some defensive headaches too, with Nemanja Vidic set to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, and Chris Smalling suffering with tonsillitis. Michael Carrick has been standing in at centre-back in the pair’s absence, a thought that will excite the lethal Demba Ba. Ba is set to continue up front with his parent country, Senegal, not requiring him to fly out to Africa for another week approximately, while Cheick Tiote is in a similar position. Steven Taylor, Danny Guthrie and Sylvain Marveaux are all missing through injury for the Magpies, but Gabriel Obertan is fit after declaring himself fit to face his former club, after being affected by a toe injury that kept him sidelined for two games earlier in the season. Man United’s defensive problems should be eased by the time kick-off approaches, with Rio Ferdinand expected to be restored to the starting line-up. The England defender will be hoping from a better refereeing performance from whistler Howard Webb, after he was penalised (not by Webb) for a tackle on Hatem Ben Arfa at Old Trafford, resulting in a Newcastle penalty and a share of the points. Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney will also return for United, after Rooney was dropped and fined for a breach of club rules when he enjoyed a night out recently. Ashley Young, Tom Cleverley, Jonny Evans, Darren Fletcher and Fabio all join Vidic in the treatment room, whilst Toon flop Michael Owen will miss out through injury, who’d have knew it?! With the top sides failing to claim maximum points recently, the league table has tightened up somewhat, and now Stoke are only a point behind Newcastle in the race for a European spot. Tony Pulis’ side picked up three points yesterday and look in good form, so Newcastle need to pick up a few valuable wins to reassert themselves in the hunt for a Europa League place.