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Pardew: Newcastle No 9 shirt to be filled soon

ALAN Pardew has promised to fill Newcastle United’s famous number nine shirt sooner rather than later – but is thankful to red-hot Demba Ba for making the issue an irrelevance.

Alan Pardew

ALAN Pardew has promised to fill Newcastle United’s famous number nine shirt sooner rather than later – but is thankful to red-hot Demba Ba for making the issue an irrelevance.

Ba’s wonderful start to life at St James’ Park has helped push Newcastle into third place in the Premier League table ahead of today’s lunchtime visit of Everton. A second hat-trick of the season at Stoke on Monday saw him move to eight goals – a record that he will be looking to improve against another club that passed up on the opportunity to sign him.

Pardew – keenly aware of the importance of the jersey – isn’t sure whether Ba would have started so well if he had been saddled with the expectation of the number nine shirt, and would be reluctant to assign it to him any time soon. Instead he has pledged to recruit a striker who is more of a “perfect fit” for the shirt than the “technically clever” Ba.

“To be honest, I don't know if Demba would have had the start he's had if he'd been saddled with all the pressure of the number nine shirt,” Pardew said. “That was why it was a conscious decision that I didn't use it this season.

“I thought we had a team that wasn't cast in stone and if I'd elevated one of our strikers to the number nine, that would have meant he was definitely going to be the man and I don't think that would have been fair on anybody.

“I decided to leave it off. Whether we fill it in the next window or the window after that, I'm confident that we will.”

Pardew is equally confident that Ba will continue to score goals despite a subtle shift in the way he has been deployed at St James’ Park.

Handed more of a link role between attack and defence, Ba has prospered – and the United boss believes there is even more to come.

He said: “Demba is really doing well. I’ve been playing him in a slightly different role to the one he was performing at West Ham, and I think that’s improved him, if I’m honest.

“It’s enabling him to be more involved in the game and, technically, I think he’s a great player.

“To be honest, I don’t think he’s a natural number nine. I see him more as a number ten, and I think he’s doing that role very well.

“I’ve given him more of a link role, and he’s done that very well. I thought he did it brilliantly at Stoke. When you are under pressure, you need somebody to take the ball in up the top of the pitch, and Demba can do that.

“He knows how to buy some time, keep possession or draw a foul to ease the pressure. He did that terrifically at Stoke.” With all the attention trained on Ba, strike partner Leon Best’s dry spell in front of goal has hardly warranted a mention.

A call-up to the Ireland squad was well-deserved for his form but he has not registered since a September trip to Villa Park – a run of some five games without a goal.

At the expense of Hatem Ben Arfa, Pardew will persevere with a striker that he has utmost faith in.

“Leon is a goalscorer. If I put finishing practice on, I’d always be confident that he’d be pretty close to the top in terms of a success rate,” the United boss said. “He has lots of ammunition, he can score with his left foot, right foot and through headers. If an opportunity comes his way against Everton, I’d expect him to take it.”

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