Newcastle United are out to avoid a club-worst scoring drought, and they could be getting three regulars back from suspension and injury to help the cause.
Scoreless in their last four Premier League matches, the Magpies will have top scorer Loic Remy returning from suspension Sunday against Aston Villa at St. James' Park as they try to re-establish an attack for just their second win of 2014. They also hope to have injured defender Fabricio Coloccini and midfielder Cheick Tiote available as they try to complete a double against the Villans.
Newcastle (11-4-11) are 1-1-6 since Boxing Day and have been outscored 15-3 in that time. The fall has resulted in media reports - which have since been proactively denied by the club - that manager Alan Pardew is another poor 90 minutes away from losing his job.
A fifth straight clean sheet yielded would be a club first in the Premier League era, something they've already achieved with four straight home losses.
Most recently, Pardew had to answer questions about a 4-0 home loss to Tottenham Hotspur on Feb. 12.
"I was more upset about the performance. That wasn't an honest display from us," said Pardew, who watched his team lose by at least three goals for the third straight match. "I mentioned a few things in the dressing room that I hope hits home. I won't mention them to the media. Tottenham dominated proceedings from the start to the finish."
Forwards Yoan Gouffran and Papiss Cisse returned from injury against Spurs but failed to create anything that translated to the score sheet.
"Physically I perhaps wasn't at my best but that will come with games and hopefully I can keep on playing and help the team get back to winning games again," Gouffran told the club's official website. "I'm just sorry for today. It wasn't good enough from any of us. We have to improve a lot before the Aston Villa game, and we will. We will work hard every day to change this situation."
Coloccini has been sidelined six matches with medial ligament damage, but Pardew hopes for the captain to return against Villa (7-7-11) to give a struggling back line a lift. Tiote has missed the last three matches with a hamstring injury and could also be ready as the Magpies look to extend a string of positive results at home against Villa.
At St. James' Park, Newcastle are 4-3-0 against Villa since Dec. 3, 2005 with a 15-4 scoring advantage, never conceding more than a goal in that time.
While Newcastle have fallen to ninth on the table with 37 points, Villa haven't done much to gain on them and are tied for 10th with 28 points, four points clear of the relegation zone. Villa did snap a two-game losing streak on Feb. 11, but it came in a scoreless draw against relegation-threatened Cardiff City.
After surviving a weak first half, Villa controlled the second but were unable to finish.
"The second half we were excellent," manager Paul Lambert said. "Absolutely terrific I thought. We should have won it with three or four."
Newcastle won 2-1 at Villa Park on Sept. 14. Gouffran scored the winner in the 73rd minute after Christian Benteke drew Villa level in the 67th. The Belgium forward has scored in his two career games against the Magpies, but he's scoreless in his last three Premier League matches with just one shot on target.