STEPHEN Ireland is keen to win a permanent move to Newcastle United – and end his Villa Park “nightmare”.
The midfielder, on a half-season loan from Aston Villa, is set to make his debut against Manchester United at St James’s Park a week today.
Ireland returned to training last month after recovering from the thigh and knee problems which had sidelined him since his deadline day move, but he was ineligible to play in Sunday’s defeat at Villa.
With manager Alan Pardew having been badly hit by injuries and suspension in recent weeks, Ireland’s return to fitness is timely.
However, Ireland – who could be used as a second striker by Pardew – has just six games to rediscover his form and prove he can add something to the club’s squad ahead of the summer transfer window.
The 24-year-old’s long-term future seemingly lies away from Villa Park, where had been sidelined by Gerard Houllier after he took over from Kevin MacDonald, who presided over Ireland’s debut in their 6-0 defeat at St James’s Park in August.
Now settled on Tyneside, Ireland’s keen to make the most of the final few weeks of the campaign,
Ireland said: “It’s a good place for me to settle, and who knows what could happen in the summertime?”
Ireland moved to Villa in the summer as a makeweight in the deal that took former United midfielder James Milner to Manchester City.
However, the former Republic of Ireland international made just six Premier League starts for the club.
And Ireland, a team-mate of Newcastle’s Joey Barton during his time at City, admits his confidence took a knock during his long spell out in the cold under Houllier, who succeeded the manager who signed him, Martin O’Neill, at Villa.
“It’s been an absolute nightmare – it feels like I haven’t kicked a ball for so long,” said Ireland, who hasn’t played a game since early December.”
Meanwhile, United were still assessing the knee injury which kept striker Shola Ameobi out the Villa game.
Pardew will be without captain Kevin Nolan through suspension for the Man United fixture, but his fellow midfielder Cheik Tiote returns from a two-match ban.
H Newcastle United’s reserves were denied a victory at Blackburn Rovers last night by a dramatic late goal.
James Perch looked to have given Peter Beardsley’s side a win three minutes from time, but Michael Potts beat Tim Krul from 20 yards to level the scores at 4-4.
Phil Airey (2) and Ryan Donaldson were also on target for Newcastle at the Leigh Sports Village.