United look set to seal Stephen Ireland move

ON its final day of business, Stephen Ireland is expected to become Newcastle United’s first new addition of the January transfer window.

Stephen Ireland

ON its final day of business, Stephen Ireland is expected to become Newcastle United’s first new addition of the January transfer window.

The 24-year-old midfielder had a medical on Tyneside yesterday, and the paperwork should be completed before tonight’s 11pm deadline.

Ireland’s arrival, on loan until the end of the season, may not be the day’s only significant signing at St James’ Park, with the Magpies close to agreeing a contract extension for midfielder Joey Barton.

Manager Alan Pardew had been hoping to add a couple of new faces to his squad but with time running out, his best work may have been keeping key players.

Playmaker Hatem Ben Arfa’s loan from Marseilles has been made permanent, while Newcastle are expected to dismiss out of hand any renewed Tottenham Hotspur bid for top-scorer Andy Carroll.

One striker who could be allowed to leave is Xisco with Spanish outfit Deportivo la Coruna keen to take the Spaniard back on loan.

The 24-year-old joined the Magpies from Deportivo in a £5.7million switch in the summer of 2008, much to the annoyance of then manager Kevin Keegan.

He has since made just 11 appearances and none since two brief cameos as a substitute in August last year.

Middlesbrough had hoped to persuade him to make the short trip down the A19 for the rest of the npower Championship campaign, but were willing to pay only a portion of his wages, reportedly in excess of £50,000 a week.

Ireland’s reputation has lost some of its lustre in a difficult 18 months.

Manchester City’s player of the season for 2008-09 fell from favour after Mark Hughes’ sacking the following December, and joined Aston Villa for £8m in August, a makeweight for former Newcastle midfielder James Milner. Again a change of manager worked against him, Martin O’Neill leaving before the deal was completed.

He lost his place in late October, O’Neill’s successor Gérard Houllier questioning his application. A December 6 appearance at Anfield looks to have been his last for the Midlanders.

Ireland started just seven Villa matches, failing to find the net. His departure ought perhaps to have been inevitable, but was complicated by reported wages of £65,000-a-week – way beyond anything Newcastle owner Mike Ashley was prepared to sanction.

United have left it until the very last day to strike a deal, calculating Villa would soften their stance on how much they were prepared to subsidise the move as the deadline approached.

Ireland has already made one St James’ Park debut this season, in Villa’s 6-0 drubbing back in August.

His first Newcastle game is set to be Wednesday’s televised fixture at Fulham’s Craven Cottage.

A combative midfielder with an eye for goal, the former Republic of Ireland international offers much-needed qualities.

Alan Smith is unlikely to play again this season, while another injury to Dan Gosling is causing concern at the club.

Kevin Nolan’s strengths lie further forward, Danny Guthrie is more a ball-player than ball-winner, and Wayne Routledge’s departure means Barton is likely to continue playing wide on the right, at least until Ben Arfa returns from a broken leg.

That leaves only Cheik Tioté – who has been suspended twice already this season – to do the dirty work in the middle of the park.

Pardew had hoped to replace Routledge with Birmingham City’s Sebastian Larsson, but sources close to the winger are resigned to him staying at St Andrews until his contract expires this summer, despite frustration at Birmingham’s mixed messages.

Once Barton’s future is secured, Pardew will turn his attention to Spanish left-back José Enrique, yesterday linked with Manchester United and Liverpool.

“We haven’t started negotiating with José yet, but I want to keep him,” said Pardew. “He has been superb for me since I got here and he is an excellent player.

“We will start to talk to him in due course because he is an important part of what we are building here. He’s been very impressive.

“Getting these contracts done is important and I’ve been happy with the support I have received from Derek (Llambias, the managing director) and Mike (Ashley) in doing this.”

Meanwhile, the new date for December’s postponed trip to Birmingham is Tuesday, February 15.

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