FIT-again Hatem Ben Arfa won’t start against Sunderland – but he could still have a big say in the Tyne-Wear derby, writes Miles Starforth.
Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew will resist the temptation to name the mercurial forward in his starting XI at St James’s Park tomorrow.
Pardew feels Ben Arfa – who made his comeback from a hamstring injury against Benfica on Thursday night – isn’t ready to play more than half an hour.
And the 26-year-old will again be named among the substitutes.
“You can’t expect him to start – our fans can’t expect him to start as he isn’t ready to start,” Pardew said.
“I know they were calling for him early, but that was his maximum. I couldn’t have put him on any earlier.
“We think he’s probably got that in him tomorrow as well. I don’t even think he’s got half a game. If we need him, it’s fantastic we got him.”
Ben Arfa came on against Benfica with a little under half an hour left, and he played his part as Newcastle tore into their visitors looking for the two goals that would book the club a place in the Europa League’s semi-finals.
Papiss Cisse put United into a 71st-minute lead, and Ben Arfa put one effort over Artur’s goals after creating himself some space.
Pardew hopes he can wreak more havoc against Sunderland.
“He’s got that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that other players don’t have, that (Luis) ‘Suarez’ moment where he can unlock the door,” added Pardew.
“He almost unlocked it two or three times in the 20 minutes he had.
“I don’t know how long he can play for, because we haven’t done a lot of work with him. Certainly, he’s going to cause problems for 30 minutes.”
Ben Arfa has made just two starts for United since hurting his hamstring against Maritimo in November.