STEPHEN Ireland is heading back to Aston Villa after suffering a season-ending ankle injury - but with the Villans prepared to do a knock-down deal in the summer he may yet return to Tyneside.
A devastated Ireland will return to Villa Park later this week for rehab on the knock suffered during the draw against Blackpool, having been told there is no chance of coming back to full fitness before Newcastle’s final game of the season on May 22.
Signed while still struggling with a knee injury, he played just twice for United and managed only 49 minutes on the pitch in black and white.
That is undoubtedly a disappointing return on Newcastle’s January gamble, but behind the scenes the player did impress with his attitude and determination, and the club are open to the prospect of him returning next season if an appropriate deal can be done.
While the club have dismissed a loan switch – indeed they are almost exclusively looking at permanent deals in the summer – it will be left up to boss Alan Pardew to decide whether he is worth a chunk of his transfer budget.
Sources in the Midlands have informed The Journal that Villa – who are desperate to clear their wage bill – would be prepared to accept around half of the £8million that Ireland cost them as part of the deal that took James Milner to Manchester City.
And while United would be unlikely to match his current weekly wage of around £60,000, the player is understood to be keen to make the move a permanent one after concluding that he has little future at Aston Villa.
By contrast he has enjoyed working under Pardew, a manager who has only spoken positively about a player he signed in January.
While Ireland’s season is over, assistant boss John Carver has insisted that United’s is anything but.
Saturday’s hard-earned draw with doughty Blackpool took Newcastle to 41 points for the season and banished any fears of relegation, but Carver says there will be no taking their foot off the gas as the season enters its finishing strait.
“We've got four games left, we don't treat them any differently. We've got four – we want to win four. We have tough games to play but we want to win as many as we can and finish as high up that league as we can.
“Everyone's goal at the start of the season – and I said the same – was not finishing in the bottom three.
“Doing that would be a successful season for us.
“Whatever place we finish this season, as long as it’s not in the bottom three, is a success – but we need to build on it.
“We need as many points as we can – we're not taking our foot off the gas.”
Speaking at the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation charity golf day, Carver admits that the club has slipped below the standards set by his former boss.
But he believes they are on the right path to return to the glory days under Sir Bobby, who led the club during their last spell as part of Europe’s elite.
“The club now is different to what it was then because of what has happened to it,” he said.
“If you cast your mind back to where we were and what we did and where we are now, its slightly different. But we understand how we need to get back to where we were and its something that will take a little bit of time.
“Everyone understands that, the fans in particular, and hopefully if we do it the right way and try to build it the right way – which is what the owners are trying to do – we'll go in the right direction.”