STEPHEN Ireland has been warned he can’t expect to walk into Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United side.
Ireland joined the club on a half-season loan from Aston Villa last month, but is yet to make his debut because of a niggling knee problem.
The 24-year-old revealed yesterday he is making good progress from the injury and while next Saturday’s home game against Bolton Wanderers may come too soon for him, he could be available for the following weekend’s fixture against Everton at St James’s Park.
However, his former Manchester City team-mate Joey Barton says Ireland will have to be at his best to play in Pardew’s midfield, where himself, Kevin Nolan and Cheik Tiote are already being pushed hard by the likes of Danny Guthrie.
The pair played alongside each other at the City of Manchester Stadium, with Ireland coming on for Barton when he made his debut in the 2005/06 season.
And Barton knows Ireland will be desperate to put a frustrating few months at Villa behind him, having been largely overlooked by Gerard Houllier, having joining the club in the deal which saw former United midfielder James Milner head to City.
“I worked with Stevie when we were at Man City together,” Barton said. “He’s a player with great quality.
“Obviously, he lost his way a bit at Villa and he’s a player who needs a little bit of love, an arm around his shoulder and people to get behind him.
“I think if he can get that at this football club, he’ll be a good acquisition for us.
“It’s up to him to prove he deserves to play with a great bunch of lads, but knowing him as I know him, I don’t think he’ll have any problems settling in.
“Hopefully, we can give him a platform to go out and showcase his talents again, but, as I say, this isn’t an easy side to get in anymore.
“We’ve got some good players – your Danny Guthries, your Cheiks, and your Nobbys and myself, who can all play in there – and he’ll probably have a fight on his hands for a place.
“He’ll have known that before he came here, and hopefully he can force his way in the team and show us what he’s all about.”
Ireland, meanwhile, is eyeing a return to full training by the end of next week after revealing his recovery is now ahead of schedule.
“We thought it would be a couple of weeks,” Ireland said. “But I went running outside (on Thursday) at a decent level and decent pace and I reckon it could be by the end of next week, hopefully.
“I’ve just got to do a few more sessions and then see how far I can push it. If it goes well then I could be back soon.
“I haven’t got any specific game in mind. I’ve just got to take a day at a time really, because one day it could feel amazing and then the next day really bad.
“It’s quite strange, but I have to see how I feel on a day-to-day basis.
“After two weeks at a club you want to be getting involved in the playing and training, but I’m not far away.”