SHOLA Ameobi is ready to put his face and body on the line against Everton on Saturday, after the striker returned to full contact training wearing his specially-designed face mask yesterday.
Ameobi has spent the last week getting used to the mask, which will protect his cheekbone while it heals, after flying to America to see an NBA specialist last month.
And, having joined the rest of the group for a training session yesterday, Newcastle United boss Alan Pardew is hoping the club’s longest serving outfield player will agree to being involved at the weekend.
Although Pardew has been delighted with Leon Best’s improvement and Peter Lovenkrands’ impact alongside him, he is big admirer of Ameobi.
Therefore the Magpies manager is thrilled he has been willing to experiment with the face mask.
He said: “Shola has trained with the rest of the group for the first time and so has Stephen Ireland, but we’ll not make a final decision on whether they are able to play some part against Everton until Thursday.
“It is looking good, though, and both have reacted positively in training.
“Shola has had a week with the mask, just getting used to it. There was no point getting him to wear the mask, ask him to play and he wasn’t comfortable with it.
“He has to have that confidence it is going to protect him so he can throw himself around as usual.
“The guy who has designed the mask has done so loads of times before with basketball players and that is a far more risky sport when it comes to elbows in the face and injuries like this.
“But Shola still had to try it out, he’s done that now and it would be great to
have him involved at the weekend.
“I’ll have to have a chat with him on Thursday, check he is comfortable and ask him whether he wants to play. I’m pretty sure he will, but it has to be his decision.”
And Pardew revealed: I’m a big admirer of Shola, he’s a very good player and he will give us an extra physical presence.
“I’m not sure he gets the credit he deserves sometimes, but he has done really well for me in the games he has played since I became manager, and it will give us an extra dimension to our play if he is fit and available.”
United fans know what to expect from Ameobi, but even Pardew is not entirely sure what he is going to get from Ireland. The midfielder has signed on loan from Aston Villa until the end of the season, and the United boss revealed that he is interested in making the move a permanent one in the summer.
Ireland, though, struggled for form at Villa following a summer move from Manchester City, and Newcastle will want proof that the 24-year-old is focused and back to his best before the club commits to any deal.
He has started just six games this season since joining Villa, and has not played since December 6 because of a knee injury.
That would suggest the best he can hope for – even if Joey Barton does not recover from a thigh strain in time to play against the Toffeemen – is a place on the bench.
Pardew said: “It’s a big opportunity for Stephen here. He has enjoyed himself so far, has settled in well and this is a chance for him to show what he can do.
“Stephen didn’t get much of a chance at Aston Villa for one reason or another, but he is a quality player.
“He will give us an extra goal threat from midfield and he can play in several different positions.
“We are interested in doing something in the summer which would make the move permanent, but a lot of water has to go under the bridge first.
“We have to see what Stephen does and we would have to talk to Villa about what they want to do.
“Let’s just see how he does first.”