NILE Ranger will complete a remarkable turnaround in his Newcastle United career by making his first start for the club since April 2010 tonight.
The striker was handed a final warning by the club for persistent ill discipline just two months ago but after a stark improvement in his time-keeping and application, Alan Pardew is ready to hand him a “chance” tonight in Bordeaux, where he will spearhead an inexperienced United line-up in their final Europa League Group D game.
Shane Ferguson, Sammy Ameobi and Gaël Bigirimana are the other confirmed Newcastle starters but it will be Ranger’s presence that will cause most interest in a match that will see both clubs field unfamiliar teams.
Ranger has not started a Newcastle game since a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa at Villa Park more than two years ago, and it has been a troubled interim period. He still boasts the unwanted record of having appeared in court more times than he’s scored since signing professional terms for the club.
But the 21-year-old, for all of his problems away from the pitch, remains an untapped talent and Pardew says he has got a chance as a reward for recent improvements.
“Nile will start. I think he’s probably the story of the last two or three months in terms of a positive,” he said.
“He’s been out of the papers, he’s been on time for the last eight to ten weeks and he’s put in application on the training ground.
“I’ve never said to anyone, ‘It’s all over, you’re not getting a chance’. If you stick to the rules and put the ethic in I’ll give you a chance.
“And that’s all it is for him at the moment: a chance, and we hope he takes it.
“We know he’s got talent. Hopefully he puts it in on the pitch.”
Pardew and his young team will step out tonight in the south west of France – where they finally arrived after having had to endure a long delay to their journey yesterday due to the wintry weather – looking to put their Europa League campaign to bed until the New Year.
However, it is undeniable that there is one eye on the Premier League engagement with Fulham on Monday.
The United boss has picked every available player to travel but had positive bulletins on all of those who limped off against Wigan. “Jonas (Gutiérrez) will definitely be ready (for Monday). Hatem (Ben Arfa) will be ready, although obviously it’s too early to bring him here. He will train on Saturday, which will be his first training session. He will be in contention for Monday.
“Santon looks okay but he might not train Saturday. Demba Ba will not train on Saturday but we think he’ll be okay.
“So much better news for Monday. Cheick (Tioté) is hopeful to train on the Sunday. We think he’ll be fine for Monday too.”
Although desperate for a victory against Bordeaux to build on the gains of Monday night, Pardew is in agreement with rival Francis Gillot that whoever finishes top of Group D is immaterial.
Thanks to the curious way the tournament is structured, United could land a team dumped out of the Champions League whatever happens tonight. “Yes, I agree with that. I don’t think it really matters, in actual fact.
“The occupancy of top spot might not be relevant when the draw is made because obviously it’s determined by country, and there are a few other little rules that are in there.
“But nevertheless, we still want to remain undefeated in Europe and hopefully finish top.”
Pardew also feels that Newcastle’s season has been revived by their win on Monday night. “It has lifted everyone. I was pleased with the fans reaction, they were great on the night. I think it buoyed everyone and lifted all of our spirits. We can go forward now and hopefully not get into that position again,” he said.
“We mounted a lot of pressure on ourselves.
“I think Tim’s (Krul) quotes on Wednesday really sum up what we all feel. We shouldn’t have got ourselves in that situation and we won’t again.”