NEWCASTLE United will be without the spine of their side at Stevenage for tomorrow’s FA Cup tie, but they at least expect to have midweek hat-trick hero Leon Best available.
With Andy Carroll on a mid-winter break, the positive bulletin on Best was welcome as casualties continue to mount at St James’ Park. The striker limped off three-quarters of the way through his full Premier League debut, Wednesday’s 5-0 win over West Ham United, and had been expected to miss the weekend game with a heel injury. But the damage was not as bad as first feared.
With Shola Ameobi (ankle) and Steven Taylor (hamstring) injured, Steve Harper will be on compassionate leave and Cheik Tioté’s hamstring will not be risked eight days before the Wear-Tyne derby.
Alan Pardew, an FA Cup finalist as a player and manager, has been very vocal about playing a strong side against League Two Stevenage, but may now find it difficult.
“As Premier League managers you get criticised for resting players in the cup, and I’ve had it myself in reverse,” he noted. “I played a weakened Premier League team before a quarter-final against Manchester City (in 2006). We played at Portsmouth, lost that, then won the cup game. I want to play my strongest team but I’m not going to put anyone at risk.
“One of the players I’m not going to put at risk is Cheik Tioté, who has got a slight tightness in his hamstring. Would I play him if we were playing Sunderland this week? I might. Will I play him against Stevenage? Maybe not.” Sol Campbell has not played since Christmas with illness, and Hatem Ben Arfa and Ryan Taylor are long-term injured.
Tim Krul will keep goal with Harper’s wife expecting a child at the weekend. The extent of Taylor’s hamstring damage is being assessed, but he has already been ruled out.
Carroll (pictured below) will not be at Broadhall Way either, having been sent abroad for a sunshine break while he recovers from a thigh strain. He is not due back until Wednesday, but Pardew is hopeful of having the talismanic striker at the Stadium of Light on January 16.
“I’ve sent Andy away,” he revealed. “He’s had a tough season so I’ve sent him away to get some sun.
“He’s going to come back next Wednesday and we’re going to assess him. It’s total rest.
“We’re going to hope when we do a fitness test for him next Thursday he’s going to be okay (for the derby).
“It’s an injury that’s difficult to judge because it’s just a small tear in his thigh but it’s a big muscle.
“He’s walking around feeling no problem but it’s when he starts kicking it will cause him a problem. We won’t know his chances until next Thursday.”
Pardew has joined the chorus of disapproval for the Festive fixture list. With the Premier League deaf to calls for a winter break, Pardew has taken matters into his own hands by effectively handing Carroll one of his own.
“If you get the opportunity you have to,” he said.
“He’s a super player, well liked here, I just want to make sure he comes back refreshed.”
Pardew has been working to line up a new signing to make his debut tomorrow.
“The injuries we got against West Ham made it even more urgent,” he said. “I still think the squad’s short. Even outside of Leon’s performance, we’d still have taken one.”
Whether Pardew will look to the loan market or for permanent deals is still up for discussion.
“That’s something we’re weighing up because loaning players from the Premier League isn’t easy,” he reasoned. “There’s loan fees attached in certain situations and you have to weigh up if it’s better to go for a buy.”
Meanwhile, centre-back Ben Tozer’s loan at Northampton Town has been extended until the end of the season.