NEWCASTLE United’s Demba Ba is in the mood – and that spells trouble for Stoke City.
Ba’s frustration at a lack of run of games without a goal was evident over the Easter weekend.
The striker wasn’t happy at being substituted against Bolton Wanderers, and Pardew admitted after the game Ba was “upset” at being taken off.
Ba’s role has subtly changed since the arrival of Papiss Demba Cisse, with his Senegalese countryman now the focal point of a United attack which will face Stoke City at the Sports Direct Arena tomorrow.
However, the 26-year-old – who has been played on the left side of a three-man attack by Alan Pardew in recent games – is still determined to weigh in with his share of goals as the club closes in on a return to Europe.
Speaking in his native France last week, Ba said: “As a striker, you like to be in the striking position, but now the coach has made the decision, and I do what I have to do to balance the formation.”
Pardew has sensed a quiet determination from Ba on the training field this week ahead of the visit of Stoke, the club which pulled out of a move to sign him in January last year over an issue raised in a medical.
“Demba’s looking a little bit better this week, and I’ve got the feeling he could be the match-winner on Saturday,” Pardew said.
“I think he’s had a little shift in mood. Sometimes you have a little shift in mood, and I think he realises that he can offer us a lot more, and I think he will on Saturday.”
Ba netted a memorable hat-trick in Newcastle’s 3-1 win over Stoke at the Britannia Stadium in October.
The Senegal international was booed by the home fans, and after the game the former West Ham United player, signed on a free transfer last summer, said the club had made a “mistake” in not signing him from German club Hoffenheim when it had the chance.
Ba added: “They have to move on and stop talking every time I’m about to play against them. The best way to silence them is to score.”
Stoke’s loss is Newcastle’s gain, and Pardew feels his performance that night was among his best this season.
Tony Pulis’s side couldn’t cope with Ba’s pace and movement, and Pardew said: “It was one of his better games – you can put it in his top five for the season. He was outstanding in everything he did on the night.”
Ba also netted a hat-trick against Blackburn Rovers earlier in the season.
However, he hasn’t found the net since early February, when he scored in United’s 2-1 win over Aston Villa.
Meanwhile, Rob Elliot has been put on standby to face Stoke City.
Ever-present Tim Krul jarred his back in training this week, and is a doubt for the visit of Tony Pulis’s side.
United manager Alan Pardew says he’ll have no qualms about handing the goalkeeper his Premier League debut for the club if Tim Krul fails to prove his fitness.
“Robbie Elliot will play if Tim doesn’t play – I wouldn’t blink about putting him in,” Pardew said.
“He’s been brilliant at this training ground with all the extra work he’s done with our strikers and everybody else.
“He deserves to be in goal. I’m pretty relaxed about it.”
Elliot has made just one appearance since his move from League One club Charlton Athletic last summer.
The 25-year-old played in a dramatic 4-3 Carling Cup win over Nottingham Forest in September.
Pardew has admitted the Greenwich-born player wasn’t his best on a testing night at the City Ground.
“He went in early in the Carling Cup, and I don’t think he was quite comfortable with being here,” Pardew said. “I think he’s now trained with the guys long enough to know he’s as good as anybody here. I think he’s grown in confidence.”