GABRIEL Obertan has been backed to hit the goal trail when he finds his feet at Newcastle United.
Manager Alan Pardew’s launched a staunch defence of the winger he signed from Manchester United in the summer ahead of tonight’s home game against West Bromwich Albion.
Obertan is still finding his feet in the Premier League after two years largely spent on the sidelines at Old Trafford.
Pardew feels he hasn’t quite reached the levels he had before a toe infection sidelined him last month, and Obertan struggled to play a telling final ball in Saturday’s goalless draw against Swansea City at the Sports Direct Arena.
However, Pardew feels the 22-year-old’s pace on the right flank is an asset to his team in any game.
“We have to be patient with him,” Pardew said.
“He understands that he needs to threaten the goal a bit more, and get in on the far post and take shots from the angle.
“They’re things he needs to add to his game, but his pace, trust me, makes the opposition go on the back foot.
“We take him out of the team, and suddenly the opposition has a different approach to the game. Sometimes, even psychologically, he can make a difference for us.
“I thought in the first half (against Swansea) he did well, but he hasn’t quite reached the heights of before he got injured.
“I think that’s understandable – you can’t expect a player who’s played hardly any Premier League games to get injured and come back exactly the same.”
Pardew is able to play with two wingers – Jonas Gutierrez is on the left flank – thanks to the solid central midfield partnerships he’s fielded this season, though the influential Yohan Cabaye will be suspended for the West Brom game.
“We’ve got two wingers, and you can only do that if you’re very strong in the middle, which we have been, even with Cheik Tiote’s injury,” said Pardew.
“People forget how long he’s been out. Danny Guthrie was terrific. We still played with two wingers and got results.”
Meanwhile, Pardew could hand a full Premier League debut to Haris Vuckic or Mehdi Abeid in the absence of Cabaye, who picked up an automatic one-game ban after being shown his fifth yellow card of the season against Swansea.
Alan Smith is another option for Pardew, who was heartened by the performance of Cheik Tiote on his comeback from a long-term knee injury.
“Mehdi and Haris are in contention – those two have hopefully got a big future here – and there’s also Alan Smith,” said Pardew.
West Brom boss Roy Hodgson believes defender Gonzalo Jara Reyes will be in the right frame for tonight’s game at Newcastle despite his weekend arrest for alleged driving offences.
Reyes has been recalled from a loan spell at Brighton along with midfielder George Thorne (Portsmouth) and striker Marc-Antoine Fortune (Doncaster) and included in the squad to face the Magpies.
But ex-Middlesbrough midfielder James Morrison misses out with a hamstring injury.