ALAN Pardew has backed Demba Ba to re-emerge as Newcastle United’s talisman as they face Champions League D-day in West London.
A chastened Newcastle have been told to prove they are still worthy of a top-four slot by their manager, and they know much is resting on their visit to a stadium where they have yet to taste league victory in the Premier League era.
The Newcastle boss insists defeat would not count his side out of the race but, with Tottenham also in action, it promises to be a crucial Wednesday night.
Victories for two of their major rivals on a vital evening would leave United with a mountain to climb to secure a top-four berth.
Pardew is contemplating whether to revert to 4-4-2 tonight which would give Ba the chance to play as an orthodox striker once more, alongside Papiss Cisse.
After 12 games without a goal, Ba would certainly welcome that opportunity.
It is the longest barren run of his career, but Pardew has not seen signs it is affecting him.
Indeed, he was impressed by his second-half reaction at Wigan – a response which convinced him Ba is ready to make a telling contribution again.
Pardew said: “He is a strong person. There’s nothing I can do (about his goalscoring).
“The chance will come and Demba will either take it or he won’t. I do know one thing, and that is that he was a big player in the second half for us on Saturday “He galvanised us and made sure there was a good mentality on the pitch in the second half.
“In all fairness, we should have scored two goals in the second half and I was pleased with him.
“However, I cannot determine how he is going to score a goal.”
Pardew knows Champions League football will transform the face of the football club and there was a measure of frustration at the way they surrendered the initiative at Wigan.
The next few weeks will be key and Newcastle know their top players are being coveted.
Arsenal scouts have started to pay particular interest in United’s 16-goal top scorer.
The Journal understands Ba, who has scored one Premier League goal this calendar year, has emerged as Arsene Wenger’s top target if Robin van Persie departs the Emirates.
United feel European football will be key to keeping the Senegal striker on Tyneside next season, but have not begun negotiations on a new deal which would remove the seven-figure release clause in his contract.
Newcastle – as is their way – have assembled contingency plans which include a move for January target Luuk de Jong.
Pardew has seen the FC Twente forward in action several times and Dutch reports suggested an enquiry has been made about his availability.
It has also emerged they have watched PSV Eindhoven’s Holland goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet – who is at the head of any Plan B in case Tim Krul departs in the summer.
United have no plans to offer up their top stars but their business plan dictates if any potential suitor offers substantially over their valuation they will begin to talk.
Chelsea and Spurs have been credited with interest in Krul, a player Newcastle would not want to lose.
Wigan stopper Ali Al-Habsi is another Krul replacement under consideration, but United are sanguine about their current goalkeeper’s future.
The Dutchman does not want to leave and believes the club can match his ambitions to play Champions League football.