CHRIS Hughton has handed Newcastle's forgotten man Leon Best a vote of confidence - insisting the striker still has a part to play in United's Premier League campaign.
Best is yet to open his account for United and has slipped down the pecking order at St James’ Park in the wake of Andy Carroll and Peter Løvenkrands hitting form.
Shola Ameobi’s timely return to fitness has relegated the former Coventry forward to an unused substitute over the last two games, and Hughton admits it has been “difficult” for him.
The Newcastle boss has defended his contribution, though, arguing he has played a pivotal role in the push for promotion.
He is adamant his time will come – and rubbished talk of selling him in the summer.
Hughton said: “There is no doubting Leon’s ability – we see that in training – but it is a difficult time for him.
“When you are a striker joining a new club, first you want to play games and more importantly you want to score goals.
“The unfortunate thing for Leon is he has seen the form of the other strikers around him, which has resulted in his opportunities being limited.
“My way of looking at it is I would rather have him at the club than not have him.
“Of course he also applies pressure on that striking group.
“He is a player who has scored goals in the Championship, it is just unfortunate for him he has been among a group of strikers in good form.
“Since he has been here, he has been a very valuable member of the squad – but of course he wants to be playing and he wants to be scoring goals. His time will come.
“Leon is a player we still want for next season. We see his abilities; he had scored ten goals for Coventry before he came and has had no problems settling in to the club.
“The area he wants to be doing well in is scoring goals, and at the moment that has not gone as well as he would have liked, but I still have a lot of faith in him.”
Hughton also paid a handsome tribute to Fabrice Pancrate, another whose future is open to question.
The French winger looks set to leave St James’ Park after failing to make much of an impact at Newcastle – although Hughton insists he has contributed to promotion.
The manager added: “He is out of contract in the summer so I have a decision to make there.
“Fabrice is another who has not had the opportunities he would have wanted, but he has added something to the squad. He has given us something in all
the games he has been involved in. He would not have played as many games as he would have wanted, but has been part of a very good and very competitive squad.
“I would not underestimate what he given the squad.”
Hughton has admitted he “likes” Portsmouth’s on-loan midfielder Jamie O’Hara – but denied any contact with Spurs over a possible summer switch.
After a breakthrough season for Pompey O’Hara is being courted by a number of Premier League clubs and would be open to the idea of a move to St James’ Park in the summer.
Newcastle are keen, but wages may stand in the way of any possible deal.
Hughton said he was one of a number of players he admired but said nothing was imminent.
He said: “I know Jamie O’Hara well, but I can only think the link is because of my time at Spurs.
“He has had a very good season. He wants to play and he needs to play, and that is why he went to Portsmouth and has done well. But there has not been anything from us on him.”
Meanwhile, West Bromwich Albion chairman Jeremy Peace has promised to be “positive but relatively prudent“ having set out his side’s spending plans for survival in the Barclays Premier League.
The Baggies saw off Doncaster 3-2 on Saturday to follow Newcastle’s lead in clinching an immediate return to England’s elite.
Albion will now focus on putting their recent yo-yo history behind them, although Peace insists the financial safety of the club will always come first as Roberto Di Matteo sets about building a Baggies squad capable of avoiding the drop.