SHOLA Ameobi could be missing for months not just weeks with the fractured cheekbone he suffered in the dismal 1-0 defeat at Fulham.
The Journal understands the injury, picked up in a seemingly innocuous aerial challenge with Steve Sidwell, is worse than first feared and the striker could need reconstructive surgery on his face, as well as a long absence from competitive action while the bone heals.
That would be yet another sickening blow for United boss Alan Pardew, who has already had to gulp, swallow and put on a brave face this week after United controversially allowed England striker Andy Carroll to leave for Liverpool for £35m on transfer deadline day.
Ameobi has his detractors, but of all the strikers left at St James’ Park, he is the only one who has a proven track record as a top-flight goalscorer with 46 goals in 133 league starts.
That figure is hardly prolific considering he has also made another 97 league appearances from the substitutes’ bench, but he has been scoring goals at the highest level – including the Champions League – for the last 10 years on Tyneside.
In contrast, Peter Løvenkrands, Leon Best and Nile Ranger have scored eight Premier League goals between them, and four of those – Best’s hat-trick and one for Løvenkrands against West Ham last month – came in one game.
Some footballers, including his United team-mate Best when he was at Coventry last season – have played with a protective mask, sometimes only a few weeks after suffering the injury.
But that is unlikely to be the case with Ameobi as the damage is so severe, although more will be known over the next few days.
Pardew has admitted he is looking at a list of players who are free agents as they are able to sign for clubs outside of the transfer window. But unless anyone suddenly has their contract terminated at a club, the list of unattached players offers slim pickings.
Despite claims by Sky Sports pundit Chris Coleman on Wednesday night that Newcastle should be looking to sign a striker on an emergency loan, this would not be permitted under Premier League rules.
Although Championship clubs can borrow players outside of the window until the traditional March transfer deadline, top-flight sides are only able to sign a goalkeeper on an emergency loan if they do not have two on their books who are fit for selection.
It is a major worry for Pardew as he looks to ensure the sale of Carroll does not cause any lasting damage to either morale or, more importantly long-term, to the team’s league position.
Several players have already privately expressed their frustration at the sale of Carroll and it is interesting to note that neither Joey Barton nor José Enríque have signed their new contracts yet.
Barton was supposed to be putting pen to paper this week before the Carroll saga unfolded and the United hierarchy can only hope his departure has not prompted the former Manchester City midfielder to change his mind.
Worryingly for the Magpies, negotiations with Enríque have not even begun and there is a real risk a player who will be out of contract in less than 18 months will look to move on in the summer rather than sign another deal at St James’ Park.
Meanwhile, United full-back Danny Simpson has paid tribute to Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville, who announced he was retiring as a player yesterday.
Neville was a role model for Simpson during their time together at Old Trafford and the 24-year-old believes he was lucky enough to learn from the best around.
Writing on his Twitter page, Simpson said: “Just gotta say Gaz Nev has been one (of), if not the greatest right back in the Premier League! I owe a lot to him from my Man United days. Thanks.”