CHEICK Tiote is battling to be fit to face Aston Villa at St James’s Park – with boss Alan Pardew hoping he can kick Newcastle United’s season back into life, writes MILES STARFORTH.
Tough-tackling Tiote has sat out the last two games with a hamstring problem.
And his absence has been keenly given the lack of a specialist defensive midfielder to deputise. Newcastle conceded seven goals without reply in successive Premier League defeats to Tottenham and Chelsea.
But manager Pardew remains hopeful that the 27-year-old will be fit for Sunday’s home game (1.30pm kick-off).
“He’s got a good chance of being involved,” Pardew said.
Tiote was running at full tilt in early part of the week, and is poised to return to full training ahead of the game.
Pardew, under pressure after a run of five successive home defeats, feels Tiote was a huge miss against a “powerful” Tottenham side, who ran out convincing 4-0 winners at St James’s Park last week.
“We’ve missed his all-round game, especially against a powerful Spurs midfield,” said Pardew. “He was the last person we could be without. We’ve missed his leadership qualities in that area.”
Tiote had returned to form in the first half of the campaign after an indifferent 2012/13 season.
The Ivory Coast international and the departed Yohan Cabaye had formed a formidable midfield barrier.
Pardew warned before Cabaye’s sale that his side would be “vulnerable” if the 28-year-old was not replaced.
And ninth-placed Newcastle’s previously once-promising campaign has unravelled spectacularly since last month’s transfer window closed without a replacement having been secured.
Meanwhile, referee Martin Atkinson – who officiated in Newcastle’s last home win, the 5-1 Boxing Day victory over Stoke – will be in charge against Villa.