STEPHEN Ireland can put his injury nightmare behind him and help Newcastle United over the finishing line, according to Alan Pardew.
The on-loan midfielder has been pencilled in to make his debut for the club against Wolves at St James’s Park on April 2.
Ireland is set to return to full training on Monday, and his return would be timely given the injuries and suspensions that are limiting Pardew options.
For his part, the 24-year-old knows he has just eight games to win a permanent move to Newcastle.
Ireland is desperate to quit Aston Villa in the summer, where he was sidelined by Gerard Houllier shortly after joining the club last summer as part of the deal that took ex-United midfielder James Milner to Manchester City.
Pardew, however, is only focused on the present, and is keen to have as much attacking talent at his disposal as possible as the club tries to secure its Premier League stats for another season.
“Stephen becomes an important figure for us in the last eight games,” Pardew told the Gazette. “When Andy Carroll left, we wanted to bring in a quality player, and Stephen’s a quality player.
“He’s been a little bit unlucky with injury, but we think he’ll be available.”
Ireland could have returned to training this week, but Pardew and his staff have held him back, mindful that he suffered his thigh injury as he was working his way back to fitness from the knee problem which had kept him out since his January move.
“We’re hoping he’ll train fully on Monday, which would give him a week’s work going into the Wolves game,” said Pardew.
“He’s got a very good chance, though we’re conscious of what happened the last time when he pulled a muscle in his thigh.
“You’ve got to be so careful with players coming back as they can pick up little injuries. We’ve taken a little bit more time over him. He could probably join in today or tomorrow, but we’ll hold him back until next week.”
The Gazette yesterday revealed Ireland will face club “discipline” over his and Leon Best’s appearance at a Newcastle nightclub on the eve of last Saturday’s game at Stoke City.
However, that incident won’t influence Pardew’s thinking in the longer-term, and the 49-year-old will judge him on his contribution on the pitch between now and the end of the season.
Meanwhile, Celtic have been linked with a cut-price £2m summer bid for goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who is on a season-long loan at Parkhead.
Forster is reluctant to return to St James’s Park and back-up Steve Harper or Tim Krul, having played first-team football in the past two campaigns. The 23-year-old was on loan with League One champions Norwich City last season.
* Newcastle United have recalled defender James Tavernier from his loan spell at non-league Gateshead.
* Newcastle’s home game against Manchester United has been rearranged for Tuesday, April 19 (7.45pm kick-off) because of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side’s FA Cup semi-final. It will be shown live on Sky Sports.