JOEY Barton will be given the Newcastle United captain’s armband this weekend – and manager Alan Pardew will urge the midfielder to do the position justice.
Barton is believed to be edging closer to signing a contract extension at St James’ Park, and Pardew feels he deserves to deputise for the suspended Kevin Nolan at Aston Villa on Sunday.
The midfielder remains a controversial figure and is often harshly judged by critics because of his chequered past, but his excellent form at United is being matched by his good behaviour.
With growing evidence of a calmness in his approach and maturity in his attitude, Pardew argued it is time to give the 28-year-old – who was captain when United lost to Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane back in December – greater responsibility in the absence of Nolan and his deputy Alan Smith.
Pardew, who will turn to Barton rather than Fabricio Coloccini, even though the defender has also worn the armband this season during Nolan’s absence, said: “It is important Joey continues to represent the club in the right manner.
“He will be captain for the next two games and the spotlight will be on him, that is for sure.
“Everyone will be watching him to see how he handles it, but he deserves the chance to take on that responsibility – not just with his displays but also his behaviour.
“There is a maturity and a calmness about Joey and, apart from one mishap against Blackburn, he has kept his control.
“He was excellent again against Wolves last weekend and we hope that he can play as well this weekend against Aston Villa and in
the game after that, because we will need him to.”
Barton has sometimes managed to keep his cool in the face of fierce provocation this term – the away games at Stoke and Wolves two obvious examples – although his past misdemeanours still come back to haunt him.
The former Manchester City star will have to apply for special dispensation to travel with the United squad to play in their pre-season friendlies in the United States because of his two criminal convictions for assault.
It is far from certain he will be allowed to enter the country.
Newcastle still have to look at the potential problems of getting Barton a visa, although other sportsmen with similar convictions have failed to get one in the past.
That, though, is not of any immediate worry for Pardew.
The United boss is more concerned with making sure his side can cope with the loss of Nolan, whose tenth yellow card of the season against Wolves has earned him a two-match ban.
Pardew added: “Kevin’s performance against Wolves epitomised what he brings to the team.
“He leads by example and he only picked up the booking when he had to sacrifice himself for the team.
“He is a special player and sometimes we take him for granted a little bit, but what you cannot take for granted are the 12 goals he has scored this season.
“That is more than Andy Carroll has scored, and it is more than a lot of strikers have managed in the Premier League.
“It is a massive contribution and he scored the all-important first goal against Wolves which got us going.
“He was not well in the build-up to the game and probably should not have played, but he did and delivered when we needed him.”
Meanwhile, Danny Guthrie is also hoping to benefit from the absence of Nolan and Cheik Tioté – who is also suspended – at Villa Park.
Guthrie returned to the starting line-up against Wolves for the first time since the 1-0 defeat at Fulham on February 2 and enjoyed arguably his best performance of the season.
He said: “I have had a frustrating season. It had been six weeks since I had played when we played Wolves, so it has been tough.
“It is always difficult to get into a game, let alone the pressure of this game like Wolves, but I was really pleased.
“Like anyone, I can only get better with games, and hopefully I can have a little run in the team now.
“It is strange how it works out – you are not involved for six weeks and then you could be looking at a run of two or three games.
“I was pleased to get 90 minutes. I felt good, and my sharpness and fitness can only improve.”